Technology for Azimuth (Part 2)

A while back we agreed to set up a wiki and also a discussion forum associated to this blog. The idea is this: we accumulate lots of interesting information here, but that information is hard to find, because it’s not well organized. So, let’s put it on a wiki! But how should this wiki work? Well, we can talk about that on the discussion forum.

Now the wiki and the discussion forum have been created, thanks to Andrew Stacey:

• The wiki is called The Azimuth Project, and it will start out looking a lot like this.

• the forum is called The Azimuth Forum, and it will start out looking a lot like this.

I don’t mind drastic changes if someone else is willing to put in the work to make them. With luck, vast improvements will occur over time. But for now, this is what we’ve got.

But there are still some basic decisions to be made.

You see, all this stuff already happened once before, back when I worked on a branch of math called n-category theory. First a team of people started a blog: the n-Category Café. We accumulated so much information that we decided to put it on a wiki: the nLab. But it proved hard to make decisions about the nLab using the blog, since on a typical blog, only blog hosts can start conversations. So Andrew created the nForum.

It worked great, so I’m trying to copy that pattern using the exact same technology. But there are some differences.

First of all, last time it all evolved organically. We had a team of bloggers who agreed about what to do. I would love to get a team of bloggers here on Azimuth, and I intend to, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Second, the topics I’m discussing now are more controversial. Nobody cares about n-categories, except for people who actually understand them. Everybody cares about climate change, nuclear energy, and so on — including lots of people who are quite ignorant of the details. The stakes are higher, and the fundamental differences of opinion harder to reconcile.

So, I’ve got some questions. For example:

Should everyone be allowed to make changes to the Azimuth Project wiki, or just people who are qualified in some way? Should everyone be allowed to discuss things on the Azimuth Forum, or just people who are qualified in some way?

Of course, we can also just wing it: try something, and see if it works.

I want things to take off quickly, but I want them to work reasonably well. Discussions are necessary to correct errors and figure things out, but I don’t want people to waste a lot of time in unproductive flame wars. I don’t mind if people argue heatedly in an area designated for that purpose: the Azimuth Forum can be configured to make this easy. But I want to work with people who roughly agree with my overall approach, not fight with people who don’t.

What’s my overall approach? Well, you can begin to see it from this blog so far. But I have big ambitions: I want to create a focal point for scientists and engineers interested in saving the planet, and make clearly presented, accurate information on the relevant issues easy to find.

Please help me figure this out. I want to get this thing started.

64 Responses to Technology for Azimuth (Part 2)

  1. Eric says:

    In my opinion, it is good to have a wiki sitting somewhere ready to absorb material, but it is a bit early still so do not have high expectations and do not become disappointed or disillusioned if it doesn’t take off right away. As you note, there is not yet a “community”. A wiki needs a community of interested people to develop organically.

    Limiting access to the wiki is a BAD IDEA. It defeats the entire purpose.

    A discussion forum makes a lot of sense, but a discussion forum is different. You should have rules. You should require a login. And it should be made clear that if you do not follow the rules, you can lose the ability to post comments to the forum.

    Even at the nLab, we suffered for a while due to an unwillingness to enforce rules. For the nForum, it almost makes sense not to have any rules because there are so few people interested. In your case, there are so many people interested from various backgrounds that I think a clear set of rules is necessary.

    I forecast that the wiki will take off only after the forum takes off. The forum will be your community and the wiki will be the place to store information from that community. In other words, your forum will play the role for your wiki that the nCafe played for the nLab.

    In a nutshell:

    Forum: Rules and logins. Posting is a privilege.

    Wiki: Guidelines and no logins. Anyone can contribute.

    • John Baez says:

      There’s an argument that it should go the other way:

      Forum: Guidelines and no logins. Anyone can contribute.

      Wiki: Rules and logins. Posting is a privilege.

      At least at the start. After all, the wiki is supposed to present reliable information about climate change, energy technology, and scads of other highly controversial topics. If I make it easy for everyone in the world to post on it, I may wind up spending a lot of time fighting vandals who stick in stuff like CLIMATE CHANGE IS A MYTH, YOU IDIOT! — especially before I get many people to help me.

      The forum, on the other, could be a place for people to argue. If someone posts a comment saying CLIMATE CHANGE IS A MYTH, YOU IDIOT!, that’s fine: people can either argue about it or ignore it. It won’t mess up an otherwise nice article.

      • Eric says:

        As you know, any argument can be made both ways. Some will make opposite arguments just for fun.

        A forum with guidelines, no logins, and no moderation will deteriorate into chaos. You’ve already seen it in the comments here.

        A wiki tends to be self moderating. If someone writes “Climate change is a myth, you idiot!” on a wiki (which is highly unlikely to ever happen because it attracts less attention than doing the same on a forum), the next person that sees it will likely delete it. Those who take the wiki seriously will organically make sure that nonsense does not appear on the pages.

        A wiki, by nature tends to be more serious and attracts less noise than a forum. Forums attract people who desire attention. A wiki is truly a collaborative project with no stars and no real ownership.

        • Eric says:

          Having said this, I think the appropriate action will become self evident in time. It is probably good to start out with little to no hindrance to participation on either the wiki or the forum. The right action will become obvious quickly enough.

          A danger is to put up a wall too early. Even a small barrier too early in the game could dissuade the participation of some good potential collaborators.

        • John Baez says:

          Some will make opposite arguments just for fun.

          That’s not true!

          Whoops.

          Seriously, when I said “there’s an argument that it should go the other way”, I was presenting a thought I’ve had, without wanting to attach myself to that thought — so I can more easily change my mind if necessary. I’m not at all interested in argument for its own sake, when it comes to this stuff.

          A forum with guidelines, no logins, and no moderation will deteriorate into chaos. You’ve already seen it in the comments here.

          You’re right. Okay, so the Azimuth Forum will be highly regulated.

          A wiki tends to be self moderating. If someone writes “Climate change is a myth, you idiot!” on a wiki (which is highly unlikely to ever happen because it attracts less attention than doing the same on a forum), the next person that sees it will likely delete it. Those who take the wiki seriously will organically make sure that nonsense does not appear on the pages.

          I agree that this happens when a wiki is running successfully. But how about when it’s just starting, and it’s on a controversial topic? I fully expect that for a while it will mainly be just me adding information… though I’d love to be proved wrong.

        • Eric says:

          I fully expect that for a while it will mainly be just me adding information… though I’d love to be proved wrong.

          It will probably be mostly you initially and maybe a small handful of other contributing now and then. Expect that. There is a clear pattern on how these things evolve. But just as with the nLab, I will likely be reading every single change that occurs on the Azimuth Wiki, and I’ll delete anything obviously obnoxious myself. So you’ll have at least one dedicated moderator with no need for logins. It’s the least I can do as I’m not sure if I can contribute much else although I like what you’re doing.

        • Eric says:

          You’re right. Okay, so the Azimuth Forum will be highly regulated.

          One way I’ve seen this done very successfully is to have logins with a rating system for comments. The login makes it clear that participating is a privilege that can be taken away. Each comment can be rated by users. If a comment receives enough negative ratings, it attracts attention from the moderator. At that point, when enough negative ratings are received, it is moved to a Trashcan rather than being deleted completely.

        • John Baez says:

          Eric wrote:

          But just as with the nLab, I will likely be reading every single change that occurs on the Azimuth Wiki, and I’ll delete anything obviously obnoxious myself. So you’ll have at least one dedicated moderator with no need for logins.

          Wow!

          Okay, that settles it, at least for now. I completely agree with your principle that the barriers to contributing to the wiki should start out low to maximize the takeoff speed. I was only reluctant because I want to spend my time writing articles rather than guarding the place. With you serving as bouncer and perhaps lab elf, I can relax.

          For those who don’t know Eric, let me say: I’ve known Eric Forgy for years, and I trust him to do this job well, in part because he’s been doing it well at the nLab. Besides, if he gets out of line, I can zap him with a fireball.

          For those who prefer it to be harder to contribute to the wiki, let me say: later we may evolve a system of refereeing, or other systems for making sure certain articles contain only carefully checked material. But right now there’s nothing on the wiki at all — so we’ve got to start by getting something there.

          I will be very happy to let organization-minded people organize better systems as time goes by, leaving me to focus most of my energy on ‘creating content’, as the obnoxious phrase goes. That’s what I’m best at. In the long run, I want to retain only enough control to keep things from veering off in some direction I find utterly appalling. But right now, I need to be decisive verging on dictatorial, just to get things happening.

    • John Baez says:

      I suppose it would be nice to look at examples of other wikis dealing with controversial topics, and what their policies are. Does anybody know some?

      I know that the Wikipedia has by now a rather elaborate system for dealing with articles on controversial topics. I guess it takes a lot of users to effectively run such an elaborate system.

    • Zoran Škoda says:

      Eric said: Even at the nLab, we suffered for a while due to an unwillingness to enforce rules. For the nForum, it almost makes sense not to have any rules because there are so few people interested.

      Eric, I entirely disagree. I never seen that we were suffering in nlab about not having rules except in points when people would bring out the awful discussions about bringing the rules. Those moments were the only moments of suffering I noted. I did not note that in the meantime you allegedly set up rules?? I did not know that this happened. Then your post was a bad news which I will ignore, of course. We know the purpose and who are the main contributors who have more weight in the case of dispute and that was always enough. Period as far as nlab. The same for nForum, except that Andrew has additional rights and power there, which makes our situation even easier.

      • Zoran Škoda says:

        To add, for Azimuth, my personal feeling is that having logins and passwords would be better, provided one can set them automatic at personal computers. It makes things more secure, while those users who would just sometimes click one single click to change a spelling of word ‘speling’ into ‘spelling’ and similar supershort contributions are (at least in nLab experience) of negligible total weight. Those who will contribute most and are not scared from significant dedication of work, are not scared from setting up one login either.

      • Eric says:

        Zoran. The discussions about rules arose precisely because some were suffering (including senior members) and the place was becoming very uncomfortable. Maybe you weren’t, but others were. It’s not like we just decided one day to start talking about rules for the fun of it. The need was obvious.

  2. streamfortyseven says:

    Um, no, I don’t think that having just guidelines and no logins where anyone can contribute is going to help the signal to noise ratio *especially* when there’s a great deal of controversy or where a lot of money rides on matters going one way or another.

    Wikis as a repository of knowledge should be rather more regulated than forums; in fact, some sort of peer review should be in place. I’d be conscious of conflicts of interest in selecting peer reviewers, you don’t want a buddy-buddy thing to start up because you can get some really bad science going that way, with sales pitches for all sorts of dodgy stuff predominating. Of course, as a scientist you know about the process and pitfalls of peer review.

    So here’s my suggestion w/r/t the Azimuth Project wiki:

    Select groups of people who are expert in the scientific or engineering discipline to review articles and changes for each section of the wiki in which they have expertise, and try to avoid having more than one group of reviewers per section (avoid it like the plague, actually). Leave the method of making decisions to the groups. You might want to have some sort of appeals process, but disputes would probably end up in the forum which is where they should go (in a special topic area perhaps).

    As for the Azimuth Forum, I’d suggest:
    1. logins and accounts, verified by email. This isn’t wikileaks… that sort of thing should be redirected to appropriate forums outside of Azimuth. It’s also a way to defeat spambots, although there are people who misuse accounts to spread spam. Spamming should be cause for immediate cancellation of accounts without warning and logging of IP data and (perhaps) blacklisting and/or notification of ISPs.
    2. Rules as to what’s appropriate and what’s not, and remedies for violations of rules.
    3. A team of moderators, per topic on a particular forum area, who are impartial and not interested (no conflicts of interest) in the area of the forum which they moderate. They aren’t allowed to post in the forum which they moderate, to avoid possibility of partiality in enforcing the rules of the forum.

    • John Baez says:

      streamfortyseven wrote:

      Select groups of people who are expert in the scientific or engineering discipline to review articles and changes for each section of the wiki in which they have expertise, and try to avoid having more than one group of reviewers per section (avoid it like the plague, actually). Leave the method of making decisions to the groups. You might want to have some sort of appeals process, but disputes would probably end up in the forum which is where they should go (in a special topic area perhaps).

      This is much too elaborate for now. I don’t know groups of people with expertise in all these areas — not well enough to select them or expect them to be interested. And I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to do all this complicated stuff. I just want to compile some useful information about the topics we’re discussing on this blog.

      The procedure you describe might make a lot of sense later, if the wiki actually takes off and lots of people get involved. But I’m sure those people will figure out the right procedure at that time.

      I’m interested in what me, little old me, should do right now.

      As for the Azimuth Forum, I’d suggest:
      1. logins and accounts, verified by email. This isn’t wikileaks… that sort of thing should be redirected to appropriate forums outside of Azimuth. It’s also a way to defeat spambots, although there are people who misuse accounts to spread spam. Spamming should be cause for immediate cancellation of accounts without warning and logging of IP data and (perhaps) blacklisting and/or notification of ISPs.

      I believe all this is already set up and ready to go.

      2. Rules as to what’s appropriate and what’s not, and remedies for violations of rules.

      It’s hard to make up these rules in detail before the forum actually exists.

      3. A team of moderators, per topic on a particular forum area, who are impartial and not interested (no conflicts of interest) in the area of the forum which they moderate. They aren’t allowed to post in the forum which they moderate, to avoid possibility of partiality in enforcing the rules of the forum.

      Again, you’re imagining dozens of people who don’t actually exist yet. If the forum grows to a certain size, this sort of system might make sense. Not yet.

      It’s sort of like, I’m exploring a new continent with a few compadres, and we come to a nice meadow by the lake, and I think it might be nice to build a town here, and you’re saying: you’ll need a zoning commission, and a dog-catcher.

      • streamfortyseven says:

        Right, and so you build your town, using deer trails for roads, and things meander every which way, and one of your compadres gets the local McDonalds franchise and another puts up a Walmart, and you decide to build an apartment complex in a cow pasture, and it’s all very random… and *then* someone gets the idea it’d be a good idea to have a zoning commission, because everything’s a bit of a disorganized mess and it’d be good to have some order … where a bit of planning beforehand might have saved quite a good bit of anguish at this later point.

        I think it could be done with a single dozen people to start out with, and you’ve certainly got that here. As for “peer review”, start out with one person who’s an expert and build from there. Maybe it’ll have to be a bit incestuous to begin with, but incest is how the human race came to be.

  3. Robert Smart says:

    The reason Linux works is that Linus is prepared to make judgements about people. Sometimes harsh judgements. And to change his opinion. It’s a tough job.
    I hope that the people contributing to the wiki will be people with a good feel for mathematics, and good respect for those with a better feel. They’ll be people who are able to admit they were wrong, and able to cope with the fact that other team members don’t agree with them on some matters. I’m confident your judgement will be good. Have some system for flagging stuff on the wiki that you’re not yet convinced about, or where you know that other experts disagree.

    • bane says:

      The two things that often get overlooked about the success of Linux is:

      1. Many contributors write code to scratch their own itch. One of the problems with climate change is that it may be inevitable that it often comes down to “suggesting” someone else do something (eg, drive less).

      2. Working code is, to some extent, a decisive arbiter. Azimuth has already encountered the issue where some people think the limited climate experiments possible justify a position, whilst other’s think some statements should be retracted because the evidence is not strong enough.

      Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is to set some sort of criteria based on “uncertainty”: if you claim a high degree of experimental certainty, you’re allowed to delete other content from that particular page but you’re required to post links to evidence that will satisfy a moderator. Conversely, if you claim a topic is uncertain you’re only allowed to extend a page with possibly conflicting analyses. But I don’t know how well that would actually work in practice.

  4. gowers says:

    This is probably not a practical suggestion, but one idea might be to have some kind of reputation system such as they have on Mathoverflow, in such a way that people with more reputation can do more. In fact, a question and answer site might itself combine some of the benefits of both Wiki and forum and have inbuilt troll-deterring mechanisms.

    • Giampiero Campa says:

      I’d like to second this suggestion. Perhaps one could be allowed to edit the wiki after having accumulated enough “karma” in the forum, even informally (that is in the judgment of just a few moderators).

      Also Graham suggestion here below to somehow “label” bad posts in the forum (eventually blocking someone after repeated offenses) is a simple regulating mechanism that goes a long way towards keeping thing in order.

    • John Baez says:

      Gowers wrote:

      This is probably not a practical suggestion, but one idea might be to have some kind of reputation system such as they have on Mathoverflow, in such a way that people with more reputation can do more.

      This is a very good suggestion if someone is willing and able to implement it.

      But I see that I didn’t make something clear enough: in our last discussion here, we already settled on the basic technology we’re going to start with — based largely on the fact that someone stood up and said they were willing to implement that technology. I’ve rewritten this blog entry to make that clearer:

      • The wiki is called The Azimuth Project, and it will start out looking a lot like this.

      • The forum is called The Azimuth Forum, and it will start out looking a lot like this.

      So, right now I was just asking a few questions about what I should do before opening the gates.

      But if someone wants to start an Azimuth Overflow — dumb name, let’s not call it that, but you know what I mean — that would be great. And if someone can hack the Azimuth Forum software to include a reputation system, that would be even better!

      People will be able to talk about these issues on the Azimuth Forum, very soon….

      • Eric says:

        Here is some advice I gave I gave Andre when he set up his wiki:

        You’ll probably also want to think about several conventions. For example,

        – Do you want page names to be capitalized or lower case?
        – Do you want all page names to be nouns?
        – Do you want all page names to be singular?
        – Do you want the first appearance of a word you are defining to be *italic* or *bold* or no particular marking?

        The nLab has decided to make page names lower case, but personally, I prefer upper case page names. This affects the label on the top of any given page.

        I prefer the “title” to be upper case.

        They also decided to make page names singular nouns and to use *bold* for
        the first appearance of a word in a definition, whereas you seem to be gravitating to *italic*.

        Another convention which I HOPE you follow is to put “s” INSIDE the brackets. For example, if you have a page [[groupoid]], Urs and some others will often write the plural link as [[groupoid]]s. That is quite
        unappealing to me and every time I see it, I cringe, and proceed to “fix” it. I’ve spent countless hours chasing Urs around changing “]]s” to “s]]”.

        There are two ways to handle plural links. One way is to use what is called a “pipe link”, i.e.

        [[groupoid|groupoids]].

        The idea here is the name on the left of the “pipe” | is the name of the actual page you are linking to and the name on the right of the pipe is that appears on the page. In the above case, the word “groupoids” appear on the page, but points to the page “groupoid”.

        Another way (which I prefer) is to use redirects. This is easier and cleaner for authors, but requires a one time addition to the final destination page.

        For example, I’ve gone through most of the pages on the nLab and added redirects for plural versions of the page.

        Now, on the nLab, if you enter a link [[groupoids]], it is automatically redirected to [[groupoid]]. This is clean and I wish everyone on the nLab followed this convention.

        To make this work, you simply add a line

        [[!redirects groupoids]]

        to the page [[groupoid]]. In a sense, this PULLS someone who clicks a link to [[groupoids]] to the page [[groupoid]].

        By the way, if you choose to use upper case page names, then you’ll probably want to add redirects for both plural and lower case. For example, if you have a page

        [[Category]]

        you will probably want to add

        [[!redirects category]]
        [[!redirects categories]]

        That way, when anyone clicks a link [[category]], they end up on [[Category]].

        Links are case sensitive.

        By the way, I like your analogy of the nLab as a kind of living organism. I’m just not sure what kind of organism. Yesterday, when I explained how to create new links, the image of a bacteria came to mind :)

        You can only create a new page from an existing page, so you start to imagine a sinewy type of organism expanding its tentacles :)

        Cheers and best wishes!
        Eric

      • Allan E says:

        Greetings! First, as a long-term lurker on TWF and n-Category Cafe, can I say congratulations on the new site and happy-to-lurk-here! I sincerely hope this effort is successful

        Second, I would like to third Gowers’s proposal for a Stack Exchange site — “Population Overflow”?

        The beauty of these sites is that they prosper from an abundance of users of all calibers, and “dumb content” such as might be found on wikis or forums, is rapidly assimilated into “knowledge” via the voting and reputation mechanisms.

        Furthermore, you don’t need an Andrew Stacey to administer — all Stack Exchange 2.0 sites come into existence and are managed through a community process.

        You can read about the “Site creation process” for Stack Exchange on Wikipedia:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stack_Exchange

        Clearly Azimuth has very good cause with potential to generate a stack of interest: I’d venture it would do no harm (as I now see above you are encouraging!) to investigate the first stages of this process

        I look forward to discussing this more (perhaps on the forum) soon, so in the meantime, congratulations again and bon chance.

        • Allan E says:

          Example Stack Exchange site proposals (on Meta StackExchange):

          http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/site-proposal

        • You may not need an Andrew Stacey to run an SE site, but you do need an Anton Gerashenko.

          I’m involved in two SE sites: MathOverflow (as a user) and tex.SE (as a moderator). The tex.SE site is great, it doesn’t need much moderation (I think we’ve had one flagged comment so far), but then tex is fairly uncontroversial. Okay, we have to keep the LaTeX3 guys away from the ConTeXt crowd, but other than that, it’s fairly peaceful.

          MathOverflow takes a little more moderating, as far as I can see. Since the aim is that it be for the use of research mathematicians, one has to be careful to ensure that there isn’t a flood of “low level” maths that drown out the useful stuff. Anton and his team have done a fantastic job at that, but it has taken a fair bit of time. The number and length of discussions on the meta site for MO is a testament to that.

          But the big difference between MO and tex.SE is that MO is completely under the control of Anton whilst tex.SE is at the whims of the SE team. Anton decided the theme and aims of MO, whilst the SE sites have been set up “democratically”. The quotes are because the votes are weighted in favour of those already in the system (mainly programmers). So even if you propose an SE site along the lines you want, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it, nor that you’ll be in charge of it in any shape or form when it is created (I have no qualifications that single me out as being worthy of being a moderator on tex.SE – I just happened to be around during the key week when it got started and made a lot of noise so got noticed).

          But of course, StackExchange is not the only game in town. You could, for example, set up an OSQA system. Ah, but then you’d need an Andrew Stacey to administer it …

          Finally, I’m not convinced that the Q&A model is quite right for this. What question should I ask? “What can I, as a 34yr old mathematician in Norway, do to save the planet?” Who’s going to answer, and (more importantly) how do I assess the answers? What questions am I qualified to answer? There probably aren’t that many environmental questions that involve the differential topology of loop spaces!

  5. Ezequiel says:

    of course you could have both, an open wiki that everyone can edit, and a closed one where authorized people can edit. The arena and the enyiclopedia. The work in progress and the polished work. If one does not work, because of too little or too much participation, close it and keep the other.

    By the way, this site is awful to edit from the android browser…

  6. Graham says:

    I think that it is helpful to have subforums with various degrees of moderation. It is much better to be able to say to somone “your comment has been moved from the Azimuth Forum to the Azimuth Tavern because you called X a crackpot” than to delete the comment which may have been from someone you generally want to encourage.

    On the wiki.

    Wikipedia has controversial pages (eg Climate Change) which seem to be doing OK.

    I don’t see much point in the Azimuth Project dealing with the basic issues – better to link to elsewhere. I imagine it to be a collection of specific technical pages which probably aren’t attractive to people want to say CLIMATE CHANGE IS A MYTH YOU IDIOT.
    Perhaps some discussion of the areas it would cover would be useful. I’m thinking like this – if you don’t like my list, you could improve it.

    Climatology (atmosphere, oceans, biosphere…)

    Smarter energy (generation, storage, transport, use)

    Saving what is left (phylogenetics, ecology, zoos and reserves, Pacific Islands,…)

    Geo-engineering (carbon capture, ocean fertilization,…)

    What can scientists do? (geologists, mathematicians,…)

    I suppose what I’m suggesting here is a fairly top-down control over what topics can be covered and at what level, and hoping that this makes individual pages sufficiently technical to bore attention-seekers.

    • simplicio says:

      Yea, I think if your going to have few or no requirements for being able to post, then the key to keeping the conversations from devolving into the 70,000th website with the same people reposting the same arguments about the basic existence of Global Warming is to keep the topics tightly constrained to specific technical issues (what is the forcing from cloud albedo, how much power can be generated from proven uranium reserves, etc) and use moderation to keep people from wandering off those topics. You can then only allow trusted users to open new threads/wikipages to keep the topics constrained while still allowing the internet at large to post in those those threads/pages once they’ve been created.

  7. For what it’s worth (because I’m not an IT expert), if at some point you need to choose between Mediawiki and Instiki for the wiki software, I would give the nod to Mediawiki. I think Instiki is a great, simple, streamlined wiki manager focusing on math content and it’s a big sucess at the nLab. It’s the state-of-the-art when it comes to displaying maths on the web. But I don’t think it will be suitable for something like the Azimuth Project – it doesn’t have users for example, so you can’t set page permissions and so on. I don’t think it has the kind of functionality you’re going to require in the Azimuth Project.

    • John Baez says:

      It’s too late for now, Bruce: the first person to come along and offer to set up and host this wiki chose Instiki — namely, Andrew Stacey. But I am perfectly willing to go along with whatever technology people decide is best, as long as those people have the energy and skill to set it up. And I’m perfectly willing to reformat tons of stuff if that’s necessary. So nothing is cast in stone. So even though it’s too late for now, it’s not really too late. I’ll just start with what we’ve got.

  8. Nullius in Verba says:

    Really, you need to give both sides their own separate areas. Trying to get both sides to produce a single coherent story together on the same page is going to be very difficult.

    One possibility might be for each page to have a separate page for disagreement – maybe the way each page in a Wiki has a ‘talk’ page? – and allow no more than ‘superscript’ links from the main article to purported rebuttals. If each page has it’s affiliation listed at the top, anybody who doesn’t want to see scepticism can easily recognise and avoid it, you can justifiably insist on sceptics leaving your work alone because they have their own place and the opportunity to respond, and it means that everyone will hopefully have access to the best arguments available against any particular proposition, so that we can judge its strength.

    And vice versa, of course, should sceptics decide to open up a new page. Not that you should necessarily expect or encourage any.

    There will still have to be rules, to keep the debate civilised and on topic, and there will still no doubt be disagreements. But that might cut down on some of the worst that could happen with a completely open Wiki on this emotive subject.

    To be honest, I rather doubt that even this would work. It’s just a suggestion.

    • John Baez says:

      Nullius wrote:

      Really, you need to give both sides their own separate areas.

      If that’s true, I think my ‘side’ — the people who think climate change is a serious problem — is going to have an area called Azimuth, and the other ‘side’ — I’m assuming you mean climate change skeptics — can create their own area called Not Azimuth.

      I have no desire to be involved with a wiki that presents ‘both sides of the debate’. Such a wiki might be a very useful thing, actually — it’s just not what I’m after.

      I want to help create a wiki for scientists and engineers who believe the story in “week301” is roughly, approximately right and want to focus on solving the problems sketched there.

      Of course, some of the story will turn out to be wrong. For example, climate change could turn out to be not as bad of a problem, or a worse problem, than the National Academy Report I summarized suggests. There are plenty of people arguing all sides on such issues. We need the smartest, sanest ones to keep an eye on Azimuth, ask probing questions, keep people honest and prevent creeping groupthink. People like you, for example.

    • Nullius in Verba says:

      In that case, you answer your own question: “Should everyone be allowed to make changes to the Azimuth Project wiki, or just people who are qualified in some way?” Clearly, the necessary qualification is that you agree with the story in week301.

      I confess, I did miss out the conditional. My point was that *if* you want to let anybody edit, but avoid edit wars, then you need a systematic separation of sides. Forums and blog comments do this implicitly, because my comments (for instance) are clearly distinguished from those of others who would disagree, we both in effect have separate ‘places’. They can’t delete what I say, nor vice versa, so there can be no edit war.

      *You* could have deleted all my comments, of course, but have generally chosen not to. I was assuming that was the sort of openness you was seeking for the forum/wiki. But you’re going to find it difficult, because some of the people asking the good probing questions might be people who don’t necessarily believe in week301. Which is more important to you?

      • streamfortyseven says:

        It all depends on the evidence being brought to bear on the question: if it’s good scientific data backed up by publications in peer-reviewed journals, that’s one thing; reports in non-peer-reviewed journals, newspapers, quotations from websites run by interested parties, and quotations from religious texts are quite another. There’s real controversy and there’s rhetoric, and in this particular sort of inquiry, there’s enough money riding on the outcomes that there’ll be plenty of rhetoric, both paid-for and not, to thoroughly obscure the important questions under a wall of noise.

      • Nullius in Verba says:

        The peer-review question is an interesting one. I understand that not even the IPCC limits itself to peer-reviewed material, with only 84% of the WG1 references in AR4 being from the peer-reviewed literature, and even lower percentages in WG2 and WG3. [Bjurstrom and Polk, 2010, as cited in the IAC report]. (It’s an even more interesting question whether, knowing this, one should consider the IPCC reports to be fully ‘peer-reviewed’!)

        Conversely, I’d also be wary of accepting material solely on the grounds that it has been peer reviewed. Besides being a form of Argument from Authority, there’s still a lot of bad science that’s been published. I understand 32% of medical literature has been contradicted or found to be exaggerated in subsequent studies, and I don’t suppose they’re alone. [Ioniddis05 JAMA 294(2):218-28.]

        (Personally, I’m a bit dubious about the sample size in that study, but it’s been peer-reviewed so it must be true…)
        :-)

        It also depends on whether you mean journal peer review, or community peer review. Peer review conducted by a journal is by two or three experts only, working part time and unpaid, and in most cases without the data or code with which to conduct a thorough check. However, once published it has to undergo scrutiny and replication by the entire scientific community (hopefully). After it’s been published, critically examined (and one cannot take it on trust that this has happened), and survived the ordeal, then I would consider it “peer reviewed”. And to be honest, I’d say the same of something published outside a formal journal, but nevertheless subjected to the same sort of critical scientific scrutiny. But standards and terminology differ.

        Nevertheless, I’m all in favour of seeing greater use of high quality scientific data and methods, backed up by fuller transparency and replication. We need much more of that sort of thing. It would be a good idea to set some standards.

        • John Baez says:

          Nullius wrote:

          Nevertheless, I’m all in favour of seeing greater use of high quality scientific data and methods, backed up by fuller transparency and replication. We need much more of that sort of thing.

          I agree!

          It would be a good idea to set some standards.

          Instead of setting standards right now and locking them into place before anyone has a clue what the Azimuth Project will actually be like, I hope that standards and policies will evolve over time. And I hope that over time the standards will rise.

          But even from the start, I don’t want data without sources: it should be made as easy as possible for readers to trace claims back to their sources.

          A good simple example is Charlie Clingen’s calculation. It only amounts to multiplying and dividing a few numbers, but the sources of these numbers are laid out for all to see, and the questionable assumptions behind the calculation are emphasized rather than concealed. This makes it easy for people to try alternate calculations — and indeed, as soon as I get a spare hour or two, I’ll try to take the work people did here and make an Azimuth Project entry out of it: a tiny seed for what might someday be a much more detailed analysis of nuclear power.

          Instead of simple binary standards — yes the Azimuth Project entry is okay if X, no the entry is not okay if Y — I would hope eventually for a more nuanced system, that makes it easy for readers to assess the information they’re seeing.

          But instead of dreaming about this further out loud, I’ve got other more pressing things to do right now. Once things get going maybe some people will work on these issues.

      • John Baez says:

        Nullius wrote:

        *You* could have deleted all my comments, of course, but have generally chosen not to. I was assuming that was the sort of openness you was seeking for the forum/wiki. But you’re going to find it difficult, because some of the people asking the good probing questions might be people who don’t necessarily believe in week301. Which is more important to you?

        Tough question. I actually care less about what people believe than how they act. I think I can usually tell the difference between someone who is trying to help (even while disagreeing) and someone who is trying to fight. But I also know it’s easy to be mistaken, and that there’s no sure way to tell.

        In a way this is a fundamental problem that plagues not only science but also politics. So, I imagine it will play itself out in some unpredictable ways on Azimuth. I guess I’ll have to use my judgement in getting things started, and hope that the group of people who join are wise enough to make good decisions further down the road.

        • John F says:

          Regarding nuanced assessments. In general it really does come down to binary (squared off) decisions: Yes this reference is OK, No this number is disputed, 51% of this team think that guy is nuts, etc. Even when there are a sigmoidal nuance functions to blur assessment, there are still threshold values you must set or no decisions ever get made. You can look at it as basins of attractions of blobs, like a rainstorm moving over the drainage basins of a couple of lakes: each lake eventually gets its portion of the storm water.

          However, and this is the key to making proper decisions, i.e. setting proper thresholds, the probabilities that decisions are made correctly can be *determined* from analyses of data, sensitivity of model parameters, etc., and the results and effects of decisions can be optimized in a well-defined and controlled way by use of portions of operations research, especially risk analysis. Note that ROC concepts

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receiver_operating_characteristic

          have long been extended into other areas of decision theory.

  9. onymous says:

    I think having logins and some sort of screening process is necessary; even in relatively congenial spaces on the internet, I’ve found myself arguing with persistent denialists who won’t go away. But it’s hard to say what the right credentials are; obviously a PhD in physics is insufficient guarantee that one won’t be a denialist, whereas an undergrad with no official credentials but free time and interest might be a valuable contributor. What would the procedure be for setting up access? Open it to all, but ban people who cause problems? Or require some sort of introduction establishing good faith?

    I would also hope that you choose something where (consistent) pseudonymity is allowed. Several years ago I scrubbed a blog I kept under my own name and moved entirely to pseudonymous commenting, because I’m trying to establish an academic career and I know a lot of academics who frown on people who are perceived to spend too much time on the internet or to have too much interest in something other than one’s “official” field. Still, I care enough about this issue that I think I could make useful contributions.

    • John Baez says:

      Onymous wrote:

      What would the procedure be for setting up access? Open it to all, but ban people who cause problems? Or require some sort of introduction establishing good faith?

      Good questions. There’s the wiki and there’s the forum.

      For the wiki, we’ll start out letting anyone write stuff. With Eric as bouncer promptly dealing with vandalism, I’m hoping that won’t be much of a problem.

      For the forum, there’s already a system in place where people need to register before they can post comments. If you want to see what it looks like, go to the nForum and act like you want to apply for membership — you can bail out at the last minute.

      One question remaining is how I should judge these requests.

      All this is just for starters: later things can improve.

    • John Baez says:

      Onymous wrote:

      Several years ago I scrubbed a blog I kept under my own name and moved entirely to pseudonymous commenting, because I’m trying to establish an academic career and I know a lot of academics who frown on people who are perceived to spend too much time on the internet or to have too much interest in something other than one’s “official” field. Still, I care enough about this issue that I think I could make useful contributions.

      Great! I’m really glad you’re willing.

      I have a lot of doubts about the use of pseudonyms in serious scientific or policy work of the sort I’m hoping Azimuth will do. But I think this is the sort of issue people can argue about on the Azimuth Forum after it’s started.

  10. Couple of comments on the comments:

    1. The forum does require a login, though it is possible to make areas open to guest posting. The wiki does not, though again it is possible to impose a password.

    2. It is certainly possible to set up different areas of the forum with different privileges and different visibility. Moving comments and discussions is certainly possible: the nForum has an area called “The Cave” which is pretty hard to find and is where the Bad Conversations get sent.

    3. _Every_ place has rules, even if the rule is that there aren’t rules. Ideally, the rules let people get on with what they’re supposed to be doing and otherwise aren’t visible. That Zoran Skoda doesn’t think that there are rules at the nForum shows what a good job they’re doing!

    4. For an example of a wiki with peer-review, take a look at the manifold atlas. This sort of thing is not a technological issue but a social one: it would be very easy to have a corralled area on the wiki that only the “journal editors” could edit.

    5. I’ve pondered about allowing voting on the forum. There are plugins that (supposedly) allow this, and I’d be happy to investigate if that got support.

    6. Anyone who wants to help on the actual technical side is welcome to do so – contact me. On that note, (this will probably be completely ignored but I may as well say it up front), please remember that I’m an amateur at this programming lark and stuff **will go wrong** at times!

    7. Bruce, you’re still in the middle ages. Evolve!

    • John Baez says:

      Andrew wrote:

      Bruce, you’re still in the middle ages. Evolve!

      I’m not precisely sure what that crack was supposed to mean, but Bruce may have correctly noted one defect of Instiki compared with MediaWiki:

      I don’t think it will be suitable for something like the Azimuth Project – it doesn’t have users for example, so you can’t set page permissions and so on. I don’t think it has the kind of functionality you’re going to require in the Azimuth Project.

      For example: I don’t see a way to require users to log in before making changes on an Instiki-run wiki. Right now there seem to be two choices:

      1) everyone in the universe can make changes on a page, or

      2) only people who know a specific password can make changes on that page.

      I could easily be wrong, and I hope I am! We might want:

      3) only people who are members of the Azimuth Forum, can, after logging in, edit certain pages on the Azimuth Project wiki.

      • Eric says:

        Just to be redundant and also to repeat myself, I don’t think logins need to be part of the wiki as it should not attract too much graphiti. Wikis are not fun. One way the nLab deals with spam is to block the offending IP address. I think blocking an occasional IP address would be better than requiring logins for everyone.

      • Actually, although instiki doesn’t have user accounts in and of itself, it’s running behind an apache webserver so “by the power of grayskull” … er … I mean, apache, we can put in place whatever restrictions we like.

      • Bruce Bartlett says:

        Andrew and Eric are indeed the kind of trustworthy reliable people you need behind this thing. Nevertheless, sticking to my guns, pushing for Mediawiki for Azimuth Project, and usernames (actual people’s names) with logins. I’m imagining sitting at some talk somewhere in a year’s time, with some scientist telling us how we can save the world. He pulls up a graph of “projected emissions based on scenario A”. Some heckler from the audience asks him where he got it from, and he says he pulled it from the Azimuth Project. The heckler derides him, saying “Yeah well you never know who puts stuff up there, everyone knows there aren’t even any usernames or displayed IP addresses like Wikipedia.” I think it will build trust if people’s actual names appear.

        Looks like we have something like 13 days before the wiki and the forum go online. Maybe a person or a group such as that of Stefan will start up a Mediawiki-based wiki template to challenge Andrew’s Instiki one.

        • streamfortyseven says:

          Or perhaps someone could hack some code to put the appropriate functionality into Instiki, to avoid this kind of nonsense: http://history.swik.net/ (see especially edits as follows:
          ” Great-financial-deal-for-emergency
          September 8
          The page was created.
          Name: Great-financial-deal-for-emergency
          Page Type: Wiki
          created by 122.163.152.91
          Small-financial-solution-for-all
          September 8
          The page was created.
          Name: Small-financial-solution-for-all
          Page Type: Wiki” and the like)

          If Instiki can’t be modified, then perhaps Mediawiki or some other sort of more secure wiki should be used. The area of climate change isn’t like that of category theory or other topics addressed on nForum; there’s a lot of money, billions of dollars, riding on the outcome of legislation and regulation in this field, whereas only a few hundred people in the entire world know enough about the topics discussed on nForum sufficiently to discuss them, let alone care about or spend money on them. People will play dirty on Azimuth Forum and Azimuth Project, and it’ll get more intense as both projects get to be more public and more influential. It’s not a very civil or polite world out there, and forum spam attacks, inter alia, will have to be dealt with. Unfortunately not only do you have to deal with the Punch and Judy types, you also will have the people who will try to take the forum and wiki down.

        • Eric says:

          IP addresses are displayed on Instiki. This is actually a “feature” I don’t like for privacy reasons. Spam does occasionally occur on the nLab and it is dealt with on an individual IP address basis. If some lobbyists take an interest in destroying the Azimuth Project, they can be dealt with.

          Like John said, the decision has been made and the Azimuth Project will be on Instiki for now. There may come a day when Instiki becomes insufficient. When/if that day comes, it will not be insurmountable to migrate to whatever platform is most appropriate at that time.

          I began a project to migrate the nLab to Mediawiki. I am poorly qualified for such a task and even I made decent progress. If the need ever arises, I’m sure some interested high school student could code things up in their sleep.

          There will always be people who will not take anything seriously that is sourced from the web. Much less a wiki. I personally do not care about such dinosaurs.

          Who knows, one day there may even be an Azimuth Journal, which collects material from the Azimuth Project and publishes it in a peer reviewed manner that is perfectly appropriate for referencing during a talk.

        • streamfortyseven says:

          Here’s a Ruby/Rails (the language Instiki is written in) plugin which does:
          • Login / logout
          • Secure password handling
          • Account activation by validating email
          • Account approval / disabling by admin
          • Rudimentary hooks for authorization and access control.

          http://github.com/lancecarlson/restful-authentication

        • John Baez says:

          Bruce wrote:

          He pulls up a graph of “projected emissions based on scenario A”. Some heckler from the audience asks him where he got it from, and he says he pulled it from the Azimuth Project. The heckler derides him, saying “Yeah well you never know who puts stuff up there, everyone knows there aren’t even any usernames or displayed IP addresses like Wikipedia.” I think it will build trust if people’s actual names appear.

          I agree. But I think it’s also crucial that all claims on the Azimuth Project be checkable. We have to give sources for all claims, and make calculations as transparent as possible. To a large extent this will reduce the need for individual contributors to have well-established reputations.

          So when he gets heckled, our speaker can either say “That graph was based on Schmitt’s paper in Nature” or “That graph is explained in detail on Azimuth”.

          (And eventually, in my dreams, the second option will be even better than the first, because you have to pay to read Nature, and they don’t demand that their authors include all their supporting data, and it’s not easy for people to point out or fix mistakes!)

  11. David Pollard says:

    The problem of allowing open editing/comment while protecting overall integrity is a subset of a more general one: democracy. There’s no easy solution. As with Wikipedia it’s likely that cliques will develop. The only real hope is that there will be enough contributors with sufficient good will and open-mindedness.

    Trolls can be dealt with by being thoroughly ignored, so they don’t have much fun, or by teams of gauleiters. Maybe both approaches are needed. But there may be a more subtle problem in that big businesses already have teams at work manipulating fields of intellectual endeavour. See, e.g.:

    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000335

    Ghostwriters may present a greater problem than trolls.

  12. stefan says:

    Despite all the dangers being discussed here, after reading all the comments I’m only more optimistic! I also can’t wait to contribute, even if amateurishly. We have a young game theory group here that is trying out environmental control models, with some interesting results.

    So when is the grand opening? I’ve been telling the others in our group to read the articles and interviews on Azimuth thus far, and promised that a wiki is coming soon. Here’s to a launch as successful as was enjoyed by your blog itself!

    • John Baez says:

      Stefan wrote:

      after reading all the comments I’m only more optimistic! I also can’t wait to contribute…

      Great! It’s gonna be fun.

      So when is the grand opening?

      Let’s say September 27th. I’m busy hammering out some technical issues, which are almost under control — but then, somewhat awkwardly, I’m planning to visit Bali from September 18th-25th. I’d feel bad opening the gates to everyone and then not being around to help out!

      Sorry for the wait, but I’ve got a week-long break and I just can’t resist visiting Ubud, especially since it’s so close. I hope you can understand why:

      There will be a week-long break in this blog, too…

  13. stefan says:

    Wow, that looks beautiful. I hope it is possible to turn off your anxiety about climate long enough to just contemplate the scenery. I find I have trouble truly enjoying things in life–my mind always wants to identify future difficulties or rehash past errors. Kurt Vonnegut’s uncle Alex is my inspiration.

    • John Baez says:

      I’m a pretty happy guy. I don’t have “anxiety” about the climate — I feel sure the climate is going to hell! But I also know the world isn’t ending. Now that I’m finally throwing myself into action, and some compadres are joining in to help out, I’m actually enjoying it. Perhaps the most nerve-racking part of a battle is sitting around waiting for it to start.

      • Eugene says:

        Can’t resist. How do you know the world isn’t ending?

      • stefan says:

        I guess my anxious thoughts center on the individuals who will bear the brunt of climate change. Good point about the pre-battle stage–most worries evaporate once action is being taken. However, this is an indication of how important the pre-battle is, since strategy dictates tactics!

        We don’t know that the world isn’t ending, but at least it probably has enough momentum to keep going for a few weeks longer…

        • John F says:

          Yes, but available tactics dictate strategy too. The relevant term for battle preparation is marshalling of forces. If we look to the Marshal of Marshals, the enduring image of Napoleon to me (besides winning battles without fighting) is him napping on the ground after prepositioning his men.

          Proper preparation can indeed yield confidence and comfort. However because there is no climate Napoleon we will have nagging doubts that will kill the buzz.

  14. Tim van Beek says:

    JB wrote:

    Of course, we can also just wing it: try something, and see if it works.

    I don’t see any other way. Let’s start with the approach of the current nLab and nForum, with a minimum of restrictions. In the case of Azimuth, you’ll have to re-evaluate the answers to your questions of this blog post on a regular basis (more like “every week” than “every other year” like over at the nForum). But there is no way to tell how this project will evolve, IMHO.

    There are a lot of topics and references in the book “Whole Earth Discipline” by Steward Brand. Once the Azimuth Project is online (and I have some spare time, which is rare these days, unfortunately), I’d like to add a page dedicated to the book, with a list of the topics discussed in the book. One could then go on and create a page for each topic and add the references cited in the book.

    Next step would be to discuss some controversial topics on the Azimuth forum, like: “Steward Brand says this or that (link to the page), Mr. X says otherwise, does anyone have any information about this?”.

    That’s the way the nLab and nForum work.

    Then let’s wait and see what happens :-)

    • John Baez says:

      Tim wrote:

      Let’s start with the approach of the current nLab and nForum, with a minimum of restrictions.

      That’s my current plan. Anyone will be able to edit the Azimuth Project wiki. People will need to register for the Azimuth Forum. For that, I hope people give me a username or email address that I can recognize or look up. On that forum, where we’ll plan our next steps, I don’t think I want mysterious entities of unknown intent.

      n the case of Azimuth, you’ll have to re-evaluate the answers to your questions of this blog post on a regular basis (more like “every week” than “every other year” like over at the nForum). But there is no way to tell how this project will evolve, IMHO.

      I agree.

      There are a lot of topics and references in the book “Whole Earth Discipline” by Steward Brand. Once the Azimuth Project is online (and I have some spare time, which is rare these days, unfortunately), I’d like to add a page dedicated to the book, with a list of the topics discussed in the book.

      Yay! I’m planning to do that too. I’m also planning to write one or more issues of This Week’s Finds about this book.

      So, you don’t need to do all the work here.

      Next step would be to discuss some controversial topics on the Azimuth forum, like: “Steward Brand says this or that (link to the page), Mr. X says otherwise, does anyone have any information about this?”.

      Right. If I get really lucky, maybe I’ll can do an interview with Brand, where I ask questions that we come up with. Maybe that’s overoptimistic, but eventually I want Azimuth to become a big enough deal that we can do that sort of thing.

      Anyway: the doors will open on September 27th.

  15. John Baez says:

    Gowers wrote:

    One of the reasons I’ve done nothing about climate change is a feeling that even if the science were 100% clear to all serious-minded people in the world, there are enough non-serious-minded people and vested interests, and enough prisoner’s-dilemma type problems, that actually getting something done about the problem is hopeless.

    I agree, it’s hopeless. That’s an important realization. I was very gloomy for a year or two after that sank in.

    But then I came to my senses. You have to say: okay, so the problem is “hopeless”. What does that actually mean? Is the world coming to an end? Will everyone die? Will all species go extinct? I think the answer is obviously no.

    If the world were certainly coming to an end, we’d be off the hook. We could say: “Nothing I do will have any really have any effect, so I might as well just relax and enjoy myself”.

    But we are not off the hook. Even if a disaster of some sort is certain, there are different degrees of disaster, and it’s our responsibility to minimize the disaster.

    I’m pretty sure that politicians and the mass of citizens will take significant action on global warming only when things get quite bad. By then, even drastically slashing carbon emissions won’t improve the climate for hundreds of years. Emission reductions will be necessary to keep things from getting worse, but not sufficient to make things better. So, presumably we’ll do a mixture of:

    1) adaptation,

    2) geo-engineering, and

    3) suffering.

    (Under the heading of ‘geo-engineering’ I include actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere as well as various potentially riskier strategies to cool down the Earth — including strategies that could backfire and make things a lot worse.)

    So, I think there’s quite a spectrum of possible futures to consider here, ranging from slightly bad to quite bad to very bad to very very bad. And I think we should all work hard to avoid the worst end of that spectrum.

    And we have to do it now, because people don’t always get better at optimizing their collective behavior when they’re struggling to survive. Often they do things like start wars.

    (Civilizations have collapsed due to climate change before. I’ve been reading about that a lot, and I’ll talk about it someday.)

    My question therefore is what you mean when you say that you want to help save the planet.

    I mean I want to do my best to achieve a future near the better end of the spectrum of possibilities.

    But of course the question is then: how?

    And the answer to this presumably depends a lot on the person asking it. We’re all good at different things, and if we take advantage of our particular skills, I think we can accomplish a lot more than if we do what’s ‘best’ in some general way but not particularly best for us.

    So, while global warming is mainly a political issue, and we really need some brilliant politicians to tackle it, I have to figure out something else to do that I’ll be good at — since I’m not good at politics. And I’m still trying to figure this out. But I have some ideas.

    Is it something like this: you want to create a resource that is so well-informed (it would get a reputation for being scientifically very sound) and so balanced (it would also get a reputation for being very clear about what is known and what is not known, and what the general certainty levels are) that it would become a recognised authority, and one that cranks would have a very hard time criticizing.

    Actually that’s not quite my goal — though it’s close enough that I might try to do this too.

    You see, I do think it’s important to make reliable and well-presented information about environmental issues more easily available. But I don’t think making it ‘hard for cranks to criticize’ should be a major goal. That strategy is too defensive. And cranks will criticize anything.

    Of course you can try to provide information that’s so clear that ordinary citizens will see it makes much more sense than what the cranks are saying. And this is a good idea — though at least in the US, it would be quite hard to change a lot of minds that are already made up.

    But I’m starting to lean towards something more like this: try to provide information that’s so clear that scientists and engineers will see it makes much more sense than what the cranks are saying.

    And, simultaneously, provide these scientists and engineers with ideas about what they can do now. There are lots of projects to work on. Lots of scientists are already doing them — but where can you look to see all these projects, in a nicely organized way? Where can you see people with many different approaches discussing their relative merits? I think there might be a hole here.

    Ideas are welcome! That’s one thing the Azimuth Forum will be about: what to do.

  16. John Baez says:

    I discovered that it’s possible to increase the number of nested comments-on-comments-on-comments to 10. Unfortunately the comments become absurdly skinny… and my attempts to use David Tweed’s code to solve this problem have failed. So, I’ll stick with the same maximum amount of allowed nesting.

    I couldn’t figure out any way to allow people to preview comments without setting up this blog on my own host…

    All I could manage is getting the header of this blog to show that scene from my back yard in Riverside again. I found a webpage that explained why: “Anytime you make the first change to the CSS, the header image vanishes.” Yup, that’s what happened to me.

    At least they gave a cure that worked…

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