Why Did Reddit Ban Climate Change Deniers From Commenting In Their Science Forums?

on December 16 2013 7:52 PM
Climate change deniers are increasingly becoming the outliers in discussions on global warming. Flickr/kareneliot

Reddit, the social news site that lets users submit all kinds of content as links or posts, has a history of controversial censorship. In 2012, Reddit’s moderators banned Gawker articles from being posted in their forums. Other news sources to appear before the Reddit guillotine have included Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, National Review, ThinkProgress and Vice, to name a few.  

The latest to be banished from the Reddit realm are not an organization, but a certain type of commenter. The online magazine Grist reports that Reddit will no longer accept comments to science forums, including the most notable, reddit.com/r/science, from people who deny climate change.

The Grist piece, written Nathan Allen, a PhD chemist and volunteer moderator of content on Reddit's science forum, explains the decision to ban climate change naysayers.

“Given that our users are mainly academics (and all are nerds), the discussion generally resembles any scientific debate,” Allen wrote. “That is, there are always numerous links to peer-reviewed science to support positions. People don’t deliberately mislead or misrepresent content, and there is a basic level of respect shared regardless of position. When a user strays from such decorum, they are kindly warned and, if necessary, the comment is removed.”

Inflammatory remarks are now, regrettably, part and parcel of online journalism, where every comments section becomes a platform for bitter debate. Allen said particular topics, including evolution and vaccines, had their fair share of hecklers, but climate change consistently drew the most ire. He described the comments section on articles about climate change as a “battleground.”

“Rather than making thoughtful arguments based on peer-reviewed science to refute man-made climate change, contrarians immediately resorted to aggressive behaviors,” he wrote. “On one side, deniers accused any of the hard-working scientists whose research supported and furthered our understanding of man-made climate change of being bought by ‘Big Green.’ On the other side, deniers were frequently insulted and accused of being paid to comment on reddit by ‘Big Oil.’”

As the science of climate change becomes increasingly clear – today, virtually all climate scientists agree that man is responsible for shifts in global temperatures – there is increasingly less room for ill-informed polemics.

Organizations across the globe, including governments and independent research groups, have all endorsed the position that climate change is real – and is happening right now. Climate change science has been rigorously tested, retested and reviewed, and the answers always come out the same. Of course, there will always be the occasional misstep. In 2007, Al Gore stated that Arctic summer ice could be long gone by 2013. Well, that’s hardly the case.

Is climate change skepticism wearing out its tolerance at last? The problem is, as Allen notes, that climate deniers’ rejection of climate science is based on both “political preferences” and “personality.” In other words, their reasoning is not grounded in scientific discipline.  

“As a scientist myself, it became clear to me that the contrarians were not capable of providing the science to support their ‘skepticism’ on climate change,” Allen wrote. “The evidence simply does not exist to justify continued denial that climate change is caused by humans and will be bad.”