How Stupid Do They Think You Are?

I don't think you're stupid. I want to say that right up front because some people seem to think you are. Some people seem to think you are so stupid, or perhaps just so close-minded, you will accept anything they say simply because they're on your "side." I disagree with them.

For instance, today popular blogger Anthony Watts and I got in a disagreement on Twitter. Watts had been complaining about how some people behaved regarding an e-mail he sent. I won't try to address all his complaints. What's most important about them is seen in this tweet:

Watts had sent an e-mail to Tom Peterson of the National Oceanic for Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a person and group responsible for a major data set used in the global warming debate. Peterson had recently been an author of a paper which claimed to show the recent "pause" in global warming is an artifact of the data.

I disagree with Peterson's paper. I think is has a number of obvious problems, plus other problems which may be less obvious. I'm not going to address them here though. They'll likely come up in later posts, but right now, what's important isn't how good or bad the paper is. What's important is what Anthony Watts said to Tom Peterson in his e-mail about the paper. Primarily, Watts said:

In my last telephone conversation with you, I stated (paraphrasing) that “I believe you folks aren’t doing anything fraudulent, but you are doing what you feel is correct science in what you believe is a correct way”.

After seeing the desperate tricks pulled in Karl 2015 to erase “the pause” via data manipulation, I no longer hold that opinion. You needed it to go away, so you prostituted yourselves, perhaps at the direction of higher ups.

The word fraud, which Watts denied having used, is right there (assuming we aren't concerned about the difference between "fraud" and "fraudulent"). That's not what's important though. What's important is Watts said prior to the recent paper (Karl 2015), he thought Peterson and Peterson's colleagues were not commiting fraud. Now that that paper has come out, Watts no longer holds that opinion.

That's a pretty clear accusation of fraud. Sure, it wasn't completely direct and straightforward, but it's what everyone would understand the e-mail to mean. If you say, "I used to think you were innocent of fraud, but now I don't," people are going to take that as, "I think you are guilty of fraud." And that's basically what Watts said.

But Watts won't admit that. When I pointed out Watts was wrong to say he hadn't used the word "fraud," he responded:

But that is a gross misrepresentation of the e-mail he sent. The quote he offered to prove he hadn't accused Peterson of fraud said he used to think Peterson wasn't guilty of fraud. The e-mail then went on to explicitly reject that view as Watts later said, "I no longer hold that opinion."

Watts could not have been more clear in his e-mail. He used to "believe [Peterson et al] aren't doing anything fraudulent," but he no longer holds that opinion. That's exactly what his e-mail said. But he won't admit that. In addition to the example above, when I pointed out what Watts said, he responded:

@tlitb @Corpus_no_Logos @tomcarlpeterson @richardabetts 1/2 My point was about "but you are doing what you feel is correct science...
@tlitb @Corpus_no_Logos @tomcarlpeterson @richardabetts 2/2 " what you believe is a correct way”.

Which couldn't be a more blatant misrepresentation of what Watts actually said. In his e-mail, Watts offered a viewpoint then explicitly said he no longer holds that viewpoint. Afterward, on Twitter, Watts insisted his e-mail said he holds that viewpoint, the one he explicitly rejects in his e-mail.

I find that mind-boggling. Even worse, however, is what happened I pointed out this absurdity. When I pointed out this hypocrisy on Twitter, Watts responded:

Watts didn't even attempt to address anything I said. He simply dismissed it out of hand, portraying the disagreement as merely being a matter of me having "clearly" made my mind up. That basic reading skills would show I was right didn't matter to Watts. And when another user made the same point, Watts didn't bother to respond to him either:

I tried e-mailing Watts about the disagreement in the hope things could be resolved when people weren't limited to 140 characters. That didn't work out. Despite my e-mail and my efforts on Twitter to get Watts to just admit what he had said, Watts's only response was:

The worst part of this, however, isn't that Watts was unable to admit what he had said in his e-mail to Tom Peterson. It isn't even that Watts made up a ridiculous excuse to misrepresent what he had said in that e-mail. Both of those are bad, but the worst part is Watts is complaining about how other people behave, saying things like:

Think about that. Anthony Watts e-mailed Tom Peterson without any provocation, to basically accuse the guy of having committed fraud. He then turned around and complained that Peterson showed his e-mail to other people rather than waiting for further e-mails from Watts. In what world does that make any sense?

Not only is it ridiculous to complain that a person you accused of fraud didn't focus on engaging with you, the only way Watts could even pretend this made sense was to claim he never accused Peterson of fraud in the first place. And the only way to do that was to claim when he said:

In my last telephone conversation with you, I stated (paraphrasing) that “I believe you folks aren’t doing anything fraudulent, but you are doing what you feel is correct science in what you believe is a correct way”.

After seeing the desperate tricks pulled in Karl 2015 to erase “the pause” via data manipulation, I no longer hold that opinion. You needed it to go away, so you prostituted yourselves, perhaps at the direction of higher ups.

He really meant he still believes Peterson and colleagues "aren't doing anything fraudulent." Even though he explicitly said, "I no longer hold that opinion. And if you disagree with him, it's all your fault because "clearly you mind is made up, so this is devolving to noise." The same sort of noise that happens when Watts explicitly states he didn't use the word "fraud" even as he acknowledges he used the word "fraudulent."

How stupid does Anthony Watts think you are? What makes him think people will believe when an e-mail says he holds a belief despite it explicitly stating he does not hold that belief?

Or does Watts not think you're stupid? Is it possible Watts actually believes what he says? Is it possible Watts read his e-mail, saw it explicitly state he does not believe Peterson et al are innocent of fraud and somehow conclude it says he believes Peterson et al are innocent of fraud? Is that possible?

I don't know. I can't read people's minds. I can't even understand them half the time. I don't know what Watts is thinking. All I know is what Watts has said. And what's he's said is insane. As I see it, either Watts thinks you're a complete imbecile who will believe anything he says because he's Anthony Watts, popular blogger for the climate skeptic movement, or Watts genuinely believes what he says because he's Anthony Watts, popular blogger for the climate skeptic movement.

Maybe I'm missing something. I don't know. I do know if I am missing anything, Watts has done nothing to help me find it. Watts's responses have been, at best, unhelpful. When they weren't just flat-out wrong, they were generally remarks about people and their persons. Apparently Watts thinks discussing individuals and their character is somehow a good idea even though when he was pressed on the actual issues, he promptly ran away.

I don't get any of this. If Anthony Watts didn't meant to accuse Tom Peterson and others of committing fraud, he could just say so. He could say he was upset and misspoke. He hasn't. He won't. He won't even admit he accused Peterson of fraud, no matter how obvious it is that he did.

What I do get is this is all insane. And that makes it a great example of why I follow the global warming debate. I can't say that I care about global warming, but things like this ensure I will always find the global warming debate a fascinating thing to watch.


  1. Brandon, the answer to your question is "very".

    You have a brain and analytical capabilities. You can make some definite contributions to science.

    Don't waste your time and energy on people like him, it's a black hole.

  2. Jim Bouldin, I have no doubt I could "make some contributions to science." But I've seen science. Why would I want to make contributions to it? At least, in regard to global warming. The most rewarded papers in climate science are almost always the lowest quality. Complete and utter dreck is not just tolerated, but celebrated. Outright fraud is allowed. Even worse, hundreds of basic questions remain unanswered for no good reason. For instance, one of the first questions I had for climate science was an incredibly simple one, yet after ten years, the only analysis I've seen of it is that which I've done:

    And it's not like I could go to the "skeptical" side to publish good science. They're just as bad. Major players like Anthony Watts have ensured terrible work, such as that by Richard Tol, is praised and celebrated no matter its flaws. That's true even though Tol subverted, if not the IPCC process, the IPCC spirit by rewriting sections of his Chapter to change their conclusions and extensively promote his own work, all absent any external review. That sort of behavior shouldn't be allowed. Except it is. The IPCC is apparently fine with that sort of thing being done (they won't even acknowledge the complaint I've sent and followed up on), and "skeptics" are cool with it because they like the conclusions Tol slipped in. That Tol's work is not only filled with errors, but built completely upon nonsensical assumptions that invalidate his calculations doesn't bother them.

    And I can't agree I shouldn't spend time or energy on people like him. Not only is it just good to condemn ridiculous accusations of fraud like Watts's, it's completely impractical. If I ignored someone every time they behaved in an absurd manner like this, I'd have nobody to talk to. That includes you. You and I have had at least one disagreement in the past. You might remember your form of logical discourse and civil conduct was to respond to my efforts at genuine discussion by saying:

    That entire discussion was hilarious, mostly as an example of how useless disagreeing with you can be. I'd argue your behavior on Twitter was no better than Watts's. That's not going to stop me from responding to you now though. And if Watts wanted to participate in a discussion, I'd talk to him too. I'd even talk to Michael Mann if he were willing. And in the meantime, I'll talk to or about you guys on Twitter when I see something which is interesting. Because that's what this site is all about. The entire point of this site is I think the world is literally insane. There's no way to avoid that insanity. It's everywhere. The best I can do is highlight it and laugh about it.

    As for science, I do work on problems which interest me. I don't expect people to listen much though. In my experience, good science doesn't get attention. I could fill this site with it, and almost nobody would care. On the other hand, I could commit outright fraud, say things which are demonstrably untrue, come up with absurd conclusions and probably get a lot of praise for it. From either side. They both have equally low standards.

  3. Come to think of it, there seems to be an interesting correlation between people saying you shouldn't waste your time talking to people and people who waste others' time in disagreements by refusing to behave in a reasonable manner. I wonder if that's some sort of memory bias on my part or if there's really some effect at play.

  4. To be fair to Anthony Watts, he said: “I believe you folks aren't doing anything fraudulent, but you are doing what you feel is correct science in what you believe is a correct way”. I don't think he believes they are consciously committing fraud. "I don't know" or "I no longer believe" doesn't automatically mean he believes the opposite, despite his clear distaste for what they have done.

  5. JamesNV, I get that, and I did sometimes indicate what he said wasn't a "direct" accusation of fraud. If that line was the only part in question, I probably would have said it wasn't even a clear accusation of fraud. However, Watts went on to say:

    After seeing the desperate tricks pulled in Karl 2015 to erase “the pause” via data manipulation, I no longer hold that opinion. You needed it to go away, so you prostituted yourselves, perhaps at the direction of higher ups.

    That pretty well ruins any neutrality there might have been. When you say someone used desperate tricks and data manipulation while prostituting themselves to achieve a desired result, you're already coming close to accusing them of fraud. Plus there's more to e-mail I didn't quote.

    By the way, I sent an e-mail to him to try to resolve out differences. It didn't work out due to a comical reaction from him, which you can see in my newest post. The reason I bring it up, however, is in my e-mail I said I didn't know what his intentions were when he sent his e-mail, and there may have been some miscommunication. I said if so, it would be important for him to let Tom Peterson know he didn't intend to accuse the people at the NOAA of fraud because that's how they're interpreting it (and understandably so).

    So I'm all for saying I don't know what he intended to say in his e-mail, much less what he actually believes. But I think it's clear anyone receiving an e-mail like that would feel like they've been accused of fraud, even if that wasn't explicitly spelled out.

  6. If I was to say, "John, I used to think you were innocent of murdering Judy. I no longer think that," then what would you assume my meaning to be? It seems quite obvious, really.

    However, given how litigious certain climate scientists can be, if I was Anthony I'd also be running for the hills.

  7. Anto, aye. You could say, "Well, I didn't actually say you killed her," but you know what people would take your comment to mean. I have no idea why Anthony Watts is pretending he didn't accuse anyone of fraud. Even if he were worried about litigation, could he really think this denial would protect him? A much better protection would be to just say he misspoke, and he just meant to say now he is not so convinced of their innocence.

    I'm curious just who Watts sent the first e-mail to. I've seen some people suggest the e-mail's posturing was for the other recipients, not for Tom Peterson. That might make some sense. If so, Watts's denial here might be because he's trying to please different crowds. He'd play to the people CC'd in the e-mail by using over-the-top accusations/rhetoric while trying to keep the more general public happy by pretending to be saintly.

    Of course, that may just be over-thinking things. Watts might have just sent an e-mail while upset, realized it was a bad one later on but refused to admit his mistake. I have no idea.

  8. Pingback: Misquoting | Izuru

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