For many years I spent a lot of time in conversation and argument on various Usenet groups. Eventually Usenet began to fade, with groups losing members and activity, and I shifted much of my online interaction to Facebook and G+.
Facebook has an enormous population and a lot of different interest groups represented, but the average quality of the conversation, in my experience, is pretty low. That became particularly clear in climate arguments, where most people on both sides were more interested in cheering for their team and badmouthing the opposition than in understanding the arguments, science and evidence. One illustration was an error that I discussed in an earlier post. Someone posted a link to a video of an experiment that supposedly proved that CO2 was a greenhouse gas. Believers in AGW supported it, critics attacked it, and almost nobody realized that the experiment, even if done perfectly, did not support the conclusion—because almost nobody, in a discussion centered on global warming, understood how the greenhouse effect works (for details see my earlier post).
Not all of Facebook is that bad, of course. The SCA groups contain a good deal of interest and a higher ratio of light to heat. And if one finds someone who is both reasonable and an active poster, friending him and following his posts can be worth doing—although even then
the quality is pretty variable.
I think I have now found a better venue for online argument and conversation. I mentioned in an earlier post a blog, Slate Star Codex
, by an unusually able, energetic and fair minded poster. It turns out that not only does he write interesting essays, he also attracts a pretty high quality of commenters, making the comment threads interesting conversations, sometimes interesting arguments. Once it occurred to me to read the latest essay, for which the comment thread was still open, instead of whichever old essay looked most interesting, I had a brand new way of interacting with interesting people online.
Not only does Scott write interesting essays and attract interesting people, some of them write interesting essays as well, as I discovered by following a link in a comment thread to this one