Misquoting

I was planning on writing a post about a topic which caught my eye tonight, but then I saw a strange tweet:

I think Stephan Lewandowsky is a dishonest hack, so it bothered me someone would suggest I've promoted him or his conclusions. I thought I had been quote mined to intentionally distort something I said over at WUWT. It turns out the truth was even worse.

A person at WUWT had made a comment suggesting a couple people had conspired in creating a recent PR problem for Anthony Watts. I said of it:

I’d say it’s paranoid speculation, at that. There is absolutely no evidence these people conspired on how to spin this. As Kip Hansen points out, the timeline doesn’t support the idea either.

This is the sort of thing which makes it seem like Stephan Lewandowsky has a point.

I initially thought this had been taken out of context, but it turns out, the words I said were actually different than the ones I had been quoted as saying. I pointed this out, and the guy responded:

I usually double or triple check what I quote people as saying because I think accurately quoting people is important. As far as I know, I've never had anyone claim I've gotten their words wrong without immediately correcting the mistake. As such, I had no idea what this guy was talking about. I responded to that effect, and he responded:

I kid you not. According to him, he didn't misquote me because he used single quotation marks when attributing words to me, not double quotation marks:

And according to him, I did the exact same thing to Anthony Watts. When? I don't know. He wouldn't say. He kept accusing me of misquoting Watts, but when challenged to provide any evidence for his claim, he refused. In fact, when challenged on anything, his response was:

When pressed, he repeated his baseless accusations and again insisted it doesn't matter that he misquoted me:

It's pretty ridiculous. He misquoted me and said it wasn't a misquotation because it is just my "preference" to use quotation marks when quoting a person. Apparently we're supposed to believe putting words in quotation marks and attributing them to a person doesn't mean you're quoting that person.

And the quotation he ascribed to me is a far cry from what I actually said, so it wouldn't even be a fair paraphrase. But according to him, that's okay because I've done the same thing to Anthony Watts. Leaving aside the baseless nature of that accusation, how would me doing something wrong justify misquoting me?

The answer is simple. It's not that I've misquoted anyone. It's not that I've misrepresented anyone. What it is is shown by this comment by the same user over at WUWT. It says, in part:

Instead of focusing on the corruption of science at hand, we have observers like Brandon Shollenberger going off on Anthony Watts in a mini-orgy of political correctness.

My unacceptable behavior isn't misquoting anyone. It isn't misrepresenting anyone. It's that I had the temerity to challenge Anthony Watts in two recent posts. It's that I had the audacity to say accusing people of fraud is a serious thing, and Watts shouldn't have sent an e-mail to certain people he dislikes accusing them of having committed it. Much less have then said a bunch of stupid stuff to defend his actions where he went so far as to deny having accused anyone of fraud. And then whined about how I called what he said "stupid," as though that even came close to comparing to the language he used.

In other words, I wasn't a "good skeptic." I didn't focus "on the corruption of science at hand" like a "good skeptic" would have. I didn't ignore obvious misbehavior from other "skeptics" like I should have. I didn't toe the line like "skeptics" are supposed to. In other words, I tried to be honest and fair.

And as these experiences with the WUWT crowd and host are showing, that is inexcusable.

10 comments

  1. Brandon, you understand criticism in the narrowest, limited sense possible so you can dismiss them. Is that what suits you?

    You took Anthony Watts' sentence about NCDC's science and focused on the 'accusation of fraud', at the cost of everything else (at least as of yet). I read the whole email and tried to think what Mr. Watts was trying to convey with that email. That is the only difference. People write badly, especially when they are emotional. Sometimes they overshoot. At others, they overwork the text and spoil it.

    Why hang on single words and phrases, knowing this? But that is what you did. You wrote not one but two posts about it. That smacks of political correctness.

    I merely showed you how it would look, if someone did what you did, with your own words. 'Lewandowsky is right' is a perfect summation of your "This is the sort of thing which makes it seem like Stephan Lewandowsky has a point." - by your own method of limited, narrow strict interpretation of words.

    Michael, I didn't pick this up with Brandon to support Watts. Watts is the same to me and my impression hasn't changed. But I don't wish to be uncharitable in order to criticize.

    Plus, Watts+Sou+Peterson+Brandon have successfully made Watts' email the focus of discussion, instead of the paper's problems.

    Brandon himself wrote:

    "... 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"

    As far as I can tell, only Jim Bouldin's attempted to obtain the data and calculate significance levels at alpha=0.05 (or whatever, do some science).

    Additionally, what Brandon's represents my words to be is not complete (not his fault). He did not, and cannot quote everything I said to him, which would give a better picture of what I said.

    Watts should have counted to ten before sending the email. He should have revised his words*. For his part, Peterson, it partly appears to me, expected Watts to respond/react to his reply to Watts, kept waiting and seeing nothing happening went to Sou in frustration ...and anger. All fascinating scientist-sceptic politics no doubt but in the end a distraction. Watts forgets, it seems to me, that if Peterson is a US federal govt employee, he is owner of the widely-read climate blog. I don't blame Peterson if he thought Watts subjected him and his organization to criticism on his blog but never gave him the chance to respond. Again, fascinating skeptic soap-opera but.

    * If the hoary accusatory stuff is taken out I agree with Watts. This paper is abysmal - in its policy-based evidence-making thrust. Is that 'fraud'? You decide. For my part, what I feel is anger.

  2. Shub Niggurath, I see you are choosing not to address my challenge that you've leveled false accusations against me. Instead, you seem to just be making more false claims. For instance, you say:

    Brandon, you understand criticism in the narrowest, limited sense possible so you can dismiss them. Is that what suits you?

    You took Anthony Watts’ sentence about NCDC’s science and focused on the ‘accusation of fraud’, at the cost of everything else (at least as of yet). I read the whole email and tried to think what Mr. Watts was trying to convey with that email. That is the only difference.

    You have absolutely no basis for this claim. I didn't ignore anything about Anthony Watts's e-mail. I did in fact try to understand what Watts was trying to convey with his e-mail. And I understood it just fine. That I chose to only discuss about one part of the e-mail in no way implies otherwise. It certainly doesn't mean I "understand criticism in the narrowest, limited sense possible so [I] can dismisss them."

    Why hang on single words and phrases, knowing this? But that is what you did. You wrote not one but two posts about it. That smacks of political correctness.

    Watts calls for people to abide by certain standards, then he turns around and flouts those standards. But I didn't write my posts because of that. I simply just wrote a couple tweets.

    What you ignore is the fact I only wrote my first post after Watts turned around and grossly misrepresented what he said in his e-mail to Tom Peterson. I thought it was remarkable he quote mined himself to pretend he hadn't accused anyone of fraud, so I wrote a post about it.

    I also tried to resolve things cordially by contacting Watts via an e-mail. His response was to trash me, painting me as the bad guy while acting as though he had done nothing wrong. Again, that was remarkable, so I wrote a post about it. You call this political correctness, but what it actually is is me pointing out insane things Watts said to me.

    I merely showed you how it would look, if someone did what you did, with your own words. ‘Lewandowsky is right’ is a perfect summation of your “This is the sort of thing which makes it seem like Stephan Lewandowsky has a point.” – by your own method of limited, narrow strict interpretation of words.

    This is complete and utter bunk. Not only do you simply ignore the fact you misquoted me, something you've never taken any steps to correct, you distort what I said. The phrasing "makes it seem like Stephan Lewandowsky has a point" clearly indicates I don't think Lewandowsky has a point, but sometimes people make it seem like he does.

    You completely inverted the meaning of my comment, but you then say your inversion "is a perfect summation" of what I said. It wasn't. You "summarized" my comment as saying the exact opposite of what it said, then you put it in quotation marks and attributed it to me by name.

  3. What you ignore is the fact I only wrote my first post after Watts turned around and grossly misrepresented what he said in his e-mail to Tom Peterson. I thought it was remarkable he quote mined himself to pretend he hadn’t accused anyone of fraud, so I wrote a post about it.

    Well, Watts tried to explain what he meant but you didn't buy it.

    Let's recap what he said in his own defense, in all its confusing, ambiguous glory: 'I used the word 'fraud' in a non-accusatory framing'. As desperate as it sounds, I would say, that's about how much you're going to get from a guy who used the word, regrets the use of the word, but is unwilling to retract anything he said in order to stand behind the substance of what he wanted to say.

    Watts and co. want to go about thinking he's the one to be wronged, etc, as they have done on the thread - that is their prerogative. But nothing can change the fact that Watts was the one who handed Peterson live ammunition. NOAA deserve the strongest of criticism for a paper like this. They used Watts' email to tar their critics.

  4. Shub Niggurath:

    Well, Watts tried to explain what he meant but you didn’t buy it.

    Let’s recap what he said in his own defense, in all its confusing, ambiguous glory: ‘I used the word ‘fraud’ in a non-accusatory framing’. As desperate as it sounds, I would say, that’s about how much you’re going to get from a guy who used the word, regrets the use of the word, but is unwilling to retract anything he said in order to stand behind the substance of what he wanted to say.

    Sure. And that's dishonest. If a climate scientist did it, Anthony Watts and his commenters would scoff and laugh. When you say something you, you have to own it. Either stand by it or admit it was wrong.

    Watts and co. want to go about thinking he’s the one to be wronged, etc, as they have done on the thread – that is their prerogative. But nothing can change the fact that Watts was the one who handed Peterson live ammunition. NOAA deserve the strongest of criticism for a paper like this. They used Watts’ email to tar their critics.

    Which again, is a reason to criticize Watts and the people standing by him.

    But pretty much nobody is. Because the "skeptic" crowd does the same thing Watts did - refuses to admit mistakes. It does that when Watts sends a terrible e-mail, like it did here. It does that with Richard Tol's work which any critical examination would show to be horribly flawed. It does that again and again, and it makes "skeptics" look bad. Even worse, it makes skeptics look like complete hypocrites for criticizing people on the other "side" for behaving in the same manner.

    I understand exactly what Anthony Watts is doing. I understand his e-mail to Tom Peterson, his comments on Twitter and the e-mail he sent condemning me. And because I understand it, I think it's horrible. And I think as long as this sort of behavior is tolerated and even supported within the "skeptic" community, "skeptics" are going to look terrible. At this point, I view "skeptics" as every bit as tribal as the climate scientists I've felt scorn for for the last 10+ years.

    (I've been using quotation marks around "skeptics" because I think the behavior I'm discussing shows the exact opposite of skepticism. That isn't to say there are no real skeptics. I just wouldn't want to tar any real ones by associating them with this behavior.)

  5. So, you raised a hue and cry about my summation of what you said on WUWT. But, you went to John Cook's twitter feed and added a note about dbstealey's comment, helpfully calling it a 'conspiracy'.

    Guess what...that's exactly what I said.

    I feel I've wasted my time enough.

  6. See, this is the sort of thing I'm talking about. Shub Niggurath says:

    So, you raised a hue and cry about my summation of what you said on WUWT. But, you went to John Cook’s twitter feed and added a note about dbstealey’s comment, helpfully calling it a ‘conspiracy’.

    Guess what…that’s exactly what I said.

    But this isn't close to an accurate or fair description of what happened. In fact, it isn't even a truthful one. What happened is I follow Andy Skuce, a member of the Skeptical Science team, on Twitter. He retweeted this tweet:

    https://twitter.com/skepticscience/status/610661633363419137

    I thought the comment that tweet referred to was amusing because it said:

    After Pope John Paul II faced down the Soviet Union, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was targeted by the KGB/FSB. They have a lot of patience. The current Pope is the result. Now they have their puppet in the Vatican.

    Which is just ridiculous. The conspiratorial nature of it reminded me of a comment I had recently seen at WUWT which said:

    I respectfully disagree. Revkin is a journalist, and he knows Peterson pretty well. Is there any doubt in your mind that they got their heads together, and came up with an action plan? Is there any doubt that Revkin understood what Peterson was planning to do with Anthony’s letter? Journalists ask questions. It’s what they do.

    I think Revkin wass in on the whole thing from the beginning, and he knew what Peterson was planning. As Pat Frank points out, Peterson transformed Anthony’s private critical opinion into a manufactured public attack. It was deliberate. And of all the blogs to send it to, they decided on Hotwhopper. Miriam O’Brien is a real hater, and she’s fixated on Anthony and WUWT. From their perspective they could not have chosen a more damaging venue. And the Peterson/Revkin team did it without notifying Anthony. Is that OK with you?

    So I clicked the Reply button on the tweet in my feed and pointed that one out. I don't get along with the Skeptical Science crowd. I don't get along with Andy Skuce either. However, I have no problem talking to people I don't get along with, especially if its to point out something we both might find funny. Part of building bridges is you have to be willing to talk to people you don't agree with, and humor can often be a good subject to discuss.

    So I didn't go to anyone's Twitter feed. I don't follow the @skepticscience account, and I wouldn't have seen that tweet if it had not been retweeted by Andy Skuce. That means the most one could say is I replied to a tweet by Andy Skuce. That's pretty normal behavior.

    Despite that, Niggurath claims that is "exactly what [he] said" (whatever that means). I don't know what point he's trying to make, but it seems me even daring to talk to/agree with people on the other "side" is unacceptable to him.

  7. Brandon, my friend,

    "I don’t know what point he’s trying to make,"

    Always a good place to end a sentence, I've found.

    "...but it seems me even daring to talk to/agree with people on the other “side” is unacceptable to him."

    I find that doubtful prima facie, given that Shub routinely and openly talks to people on the other "side." However, I may be wrong and you may be right, and the only way for me to know for sure would be to go back over the whole Balkan history of your correspondence, which I'm... not gonna do. 😉

    Vita brevis, ars longa.

    Brandon, I can't wait for your ass-kicking, number-taking return to blogging the big issues.

  8. Brad Keyes, that impression of mine could be wrong. However, he made a number of remarks on Twitter which contribute to it. And really, I don't see any other reason for him to get worked up over that tweet. Of course, this uncertainty could be resolved by him just explaining his thoughts or views in a clear manner, something I'm not sure I've ever seen him do 😛

    As for returning to the big issues, I published my second (short) eBook on Michael Mann not even a month ago, and about a week ago, I showed why people could reasonably believe BEST has committed fraud (and it's not the expected reason). I'd say the blog is still discussing "big" issues.

    And while it isn't a "big" issue, personally, I'm most happy with my recent post on the decomposition of methane. Sadly, while it was a somewhat novel contribution, nobody seemed interested in it.

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