Archive for October 22nd, 2009

Anatomy of a credibility war–global warming and Superfreakonomics

October 22, 2009

Here’s a blog war that seems to be heating up faster than our climate: The New York Times guest editorial column by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner takes on a very strident attack by a prominent environmental blogger.

From a reputation management standpoint, this kind of interchange is fascinating. Here are a few of my observations:

1) Your viewpoint on this–whether you agree with blogger Joe Romm or Dubner depends mostly on your own biases and perceptions. We never really start on neutral ground. I happen to be a big fan of Freakonomics and admired their courage to bring up issues such as abortion and falling crime rates in the face of the political correctness police. So that is my bias and I approach this war from that standpoint.

2) It’s all about credibility. If you take the time to dissect Dubner’s response to Romm’s attack you can see it goes directly to the heart of whether or not Romm can be trusted and believed. This is where such reputation wars always end up in my mind which means the first caution to any communicator is never ever ever give your opponents any reason to question your complete honesty–including what you don’t say.

3) Borrowed credibility–here the debate is largely over what position one of the subjects in the book–Ken Caldeira who according to both seems to be one of the most respected climate scientists in the world. Both are making claims about what he says and doesn’t say about the reporting. From that standpoint, it seems to be that Dubner delivered a knockout punch to Romm when he demonstrated that Caldeira’s denial of a statement in the book was from Caldeira’s failure to carefully edit it and not due to the author’s lack of integrity as Romm is trying to prove.

4) Tone matters–Romm can’t help himself in his outrage. There are certainly times when outrage is appropriate and should be used. But Dubner’s even tone and very careful dissection of the argument vs. Romm’s more emotional ranting communicates that Romm is just deeply disturbed by what the book is saying and Dubner is understanding this is about who is to be believed more than who is most passionate. Romm does his argument a disservice in my mind by his tone. Lending a lot of credence to the statement in the book about the religion of global warming.