One of the things in life which amazes me the most is just the timing of things. Two things which would be largely unremarkable on their own happen in such proximity to one another, it just feels like it can't be coincidence - even though they have no relation to one another. This post is about an example of that.

As my last two posts discuss, I recently discovered Ivan Oransky of the popular site Retraction Watch secretly modifies the user comments at his site. It turns out he considers that normal. It's the standard policy of his site to do it. They'll modify comments from users in any way they feel like without leaving any indication of the changes.

Now at about the same time this happened, a different story emerged regarding another site. This one involved, depending on who you talk to, identity theft and fake comments. The timing of it is remarkable.

I'm, of course, talking about the Skeptical Science story that's not anywhere near as much of a story as people are making it out to be. John Cook, owner of Skeptical Science, had posted under the name of a skeptic he dislikes in his private forum. Again, I want to stress, this was in his private forum. In his private forum where the only people who would see it were people who would know what he was doing.

Yeah, I don't know why people are talking about identity theft. The only real story in this is the reason Cook posted under a fake name. The fake name itself doesn't matter. What matters is John Cook was seeking to perform some experiments. He had already performed one experiment. As he explains:

I've been conducting a psychological experiment with UWA cognitive scientists testing for the effects of blog comments on readers' comprehension. The first stage of the experiment was live on SkS and we've analysed the data and found that for a warmist blog post, there was no difference in reader comprehension when the reader was exposed to all warmist comments or no comments. However, when the reader was exposed to all skeptic comments, their comprehension dropped.

So it's officially been quantified - reading the comments threads on denier blogs will make you stupid.

This is what the story should have been about. Cook's goal was to get an "official" message: "People who listen to our opponents are stupid." To help support this message, he planned to perform a new experiment:

Anyway, we're now moving onto stage 2 of the experiment - they're going to conduct a similar experiment in the lab at UWA but with a twist - they're going to have 4 conditions:

Warmist blog post, all warmist comments
Warmist blog post, all skeptic comments
Skeptic blog post, all warmist comments
Skeptic blog post, all skeptic comments

You've already seen and been horrified by my hideously evil skeptic blog post. I'm now asking SkSers to perform duties even more arduous - I need you to embrace your inner-climate-denier and post skeptic comments avidly supporting the denier post. Specifically, we need 10 comments for each condition. So it only really requires a handful of SkSers going into the 4 conditions (linked above) and interact with each other, either wholeheartedly embracing and endorsing the post or vigorously criticising and nitpicking it. We will then take the 4 conditions into the lab and see what impact they have on reader comprehension, see if it confirms our first result.

That's a story. Cook wanted to prove simply being exposed to his opponents makes you stupid. This goal is part of the motivation behind something he is constantly pushing now, four years later, called the "innoculation approach." Basically, he wants to make people "immune" to skeptics by getting them to where they won't listen to his opponents. Why? Because his opponents are bad, and listening to them will make you stupid.

And to prove this, he wasn't going to test the effect comments from his opponents had on people. Instead, he was going to use a bunch of fake quotes written by people who held his opponents in obvious disdain, to write comments supporting a position they felt was "hideously evil."

See? That's a story. Cook posting under a fake name would have made for a great hook for the story. But that's not the route people went with. Instead, a lot of attention went to the idea there was some "identity theft." Which was stupid. But whatever. I tried to head off some of the worst of it by explaining the situation and context of what happened over at the blog Watts Up With That, but the reactions I got were disheartening. People there seemed determined to ignore all the evidence of what had actually happened to stick with the narrative of "identity theft," even though they had no basis for it. It's baffling.

But it's also not something I would normally bother bringing up. I only do so because it ties us back to the issue of Ivan Oransky and the people at Retraction Watch committing systematic fraud by secretly modifying their users' comments. You see, these two stories developed at pretty much the same time. That sort of timing seems incredible to me.

What also seems incredible to me is the people at Watts Up With That apparently are so determined to stick with their insane narrative this actually happened:


The user hunter posted under the name "John_Cook," which was obviously a poor joke aimed at the fact Cook's use of someone else's name in his own forum, then posted a quote which he attributed to the user "Brandon_Shollenberger." Of course, that quote is nothing like anything I've ever said. It was intentionally designed to make me look stupid, a reference to the fact Cook and his pals intentionally wrote comments to make their opponents look bad.

In other words, hunter did what people at Watts Up With That were complaining Cook had done, only he did it in a public location rather than a private forum. A moderator felt it wasn't appropriate, so he changed the "John_Cook" username. Only, the moderator left the fake quote, saying:

this person posted a reasonable comment

So apparently publicly posting fake quotes to make people look bad is considered reasonable at Watts Up With That, but posting under someone else's name is not...? I'm curious just where the line is drawn.

More importantly though, the reason what Cook did wasn't wrong is he did it in a private forum where people knew what he was doing. How many people reading Watts Up With That would know that quote attributed to me wasn't real? Given what I've seen in that thread, I'm not sure any would.

On the upside, at least the moderator had the decency to note the change he made to the comment. See Oransky? That's what not-completely-insane people do.


  1. I too, find the whole matter to be a tempest in a teapot and when the commenters over at WUWT are more upset than the "victim", you know it's been blown out of proportion.

    However, the law is pretty clear that when it comes to matters of libel, a private forum is no different from a public one. Once the information is submitted to a group of one or more people, it's considered public.

    I'm not suggesting what Cook did rises to the level of libel but if under different circumstances, the comments attributed to Motl were so egregious as to cause harm to his reputation, private forum or not, a case could be made for libel.

    The fact that we are reading comments made in a private forum, illustrates precisely why they are not considered private.

  2. I would agree MIchael Schonewille, except the people in the forum knew what he was doing. The one time there was any confusion, it was quickly explained (and only happened because Cook mistakenly posted under the wrong account in the wrong topic).

    If I tell a joke where I put on an accent and begin by saying, "I'm John Cook, and I like to dress up like a Nazi," nobody's going to accuse me of identity theft. It doesn't matter that I used his name. It's clear I'm not him. The same was true for his use of Lubos Motl's name.

  3. Brandon
    The trap of identity theft is something I have also fallen into. You are correct in identifying the real issue.

    Cook wanted to prove simply being exposed to his opponents makes you stupid.

    Cook and others want to put intellectual distance between themselves and those who do not share their beliefs. Other means are the "conspiracist ideation" hypothesis; calling skeptics "deniers"; creating a false demarcation between expert scientists and contrarian bloggers; failing to distinguish between the trivial and non-trivial (the 97% survey was based on belief in the trivial AGW hypothesis, not the narrower catastrophic version); and directing people away from the direct evidence to highly biased similar opinions to their own.
    The techniques are very human, and are akin to a criminal court denying the accused a defense, along with ditching the direct evidence in favor of hearsay and vague character generalizations.

  4. Brandon:
    It indeed looks like this was part of some pre-test.

    Then again, the UWA experiment would have been run, or maybe it was only ever a plan that was never implemented, on people outside the SkS Forum. So Cook seem to have had the intention to write under someone else's name.

    The experiment is, of course, badly designed: People would respond differently to comments by Cook-as-Motl and by Motl, unless Cook perfectly impersonates Motl.

  5. I'm having a hard time accepting that this fakery was limited to test comments in an experiment, and not say a survey designed to make skeptics look conspiratorial.

  6. Didn't you expose John Cook making up quotes awhile back? I thought it was brilliant to post as Cook and he is making up a quote from you.

  7. John Cook has made up a number of quotes, but mostly-sort-of inadvertently. For instance, my first post on this blog was about it. I followed up on that story. I followed up on it twice more, if memory serves. I don't feel like finding the links though. I was also the one who showed Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook misrepresented, and even fabricated, quotes in their Recursive Fury paper. And in another case, the Skeptical Science group had to create a forum thread to check all the head quotes in their pages because Cook had mangled so many quotes. And again, I feel too lazy to find the link right now.

    But there's no evidence Cook ever actually tried to create a fake quote under somebody's name. Cook just has a very lax attitude where he doesn't really care about getting quotes right.

  8. For sense of timing I can beat that. There is a blogger named Ken Levine who was writer for a number of hit shows, Cheers, Frasier, MASH, etc.
    He answers questions every week, so I was visiting his blog to ask what was the last spec he had every written. Spec is when writers looking for work write sample episodes of existing shows. So I go to the blog and the post was
    "I’ve written a spec DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. "

  9. I gave up on WUWT a while back. It is just another self-serving website claiming to stand on an "issue". Ask an inconvenient question and you are lynched. Eventually your posts simply get lost in moderation.


    Your clarity of thought on this matter is appreciated.

  10. Laura, I think I've pretty much given up on "skeptic" blogs. I'm not going to go into the reasons, but for the short version, there aren't any I feel comfortable with. Climate Audit was alright despite my vehement disagreement with its posts on the Andrew Weaver issue, which I'm still baffled by, but it's very inactive anymore. The Blackboard is also rather inactive, but because of problems with my ISP, I have a lot of trouble posting there anyway. Other than that, I can't think of any blogs I'd really feel comfortable posting on.

    JamesNV, I don't see that quote on that page, but if he did say it, he's wrong. Nobody has exclusive rights to any name. But perhaps you were making a joke about that very point?

  11. It's in the comments and I agree with him. Nobody has the right to impersonate him and post comments in his name whether in a public forum or in a semi-private forum, or whether other forum members knew what was happening.

    Still, it's a far from 'identity theft'.

  12. Ah. I see. It seems the comments weren't loading for some reason.

    I'm afraid you're wrong. So is he. You don't have exclusive rights to your name. No court of law would ever hold you did, and to be honest, I doubt you would say you did under other circumstances. So long as John Cook didn't try to actually convince someone he was Lubos Motl, there wad nothing inherently wrong with posting a comment under the name Lubos Motl.

  13. I agree with Motl that he is the only person who has the right to publish as 'himself' - ie: under his own "name". Posting comments in a public forum or semi-public forum while assuming someone else's identity is wrong, even if they acknowledge what they're doing elsewhere in the forum. I don't know the intricacies of US law so I'm not going to bother. Not sure why you would defend that behaviour. I'd say it's worse behaviour than Retraction Watch editing your comment. It's in their 'comments policy' afterall. 😛

  14. Um, sorry, but no. What John Cook did isn't remotely close to as bad as what Retraction Watch did. As I said (on another thread?), I can't be my normal civil self this week, so... that's stupid, and you're stupid person for saying it.

    Every person who read the comments Cook posted under the name Lubos Motl knew it was Cook posting the comments. Nobody thought it was Motl posting those comments. It was no worse, in fact it was effectively no different than, if Cook had gotten up on stage, put on a silly accent and said, "My name is Lubos Motl and I..." then proceeded to say a bunch of stupid things pretending to be Lubos Motl in a bad standup routine.

    Because that's all this was. It was a bad sendup of Motl, and for some reason, people like you and Motl are acting like that's not allowed. Guess what? It is. People are even allowed to go on television, dress up like you, put on wigs and makeup to look like you, put nameplates in front of them with your names on them and do routines mocking you. They can get paid lots of money to do it too. It's called comedy. You can see it every Saturday Night, Live. Though, to be honest, that show kind of sucks.

    So yeah, please stop saying stupid things. Or failing that, please stop saying them here. I'm not really a fan of telling people to leave my site; I'd just rather not insult you more harshly than I already have. Which is far more tame than you deserve for making such an idiotic comment. Seriously, saying behavior that wasn't dishonest is worse than Retraction Watch's official policy of committing systematic fraud was deserves... well, nothing I feel like typing right now.

  15. You are wrong.

    You may want to do a quick Google search on Raphael Golb. Golb was recently sentenced to two months in prison for adopting the identities of scholars in online debates. One of the charges was misdemeanor criminal impersonation and also forgery.

    So pretending to be someone else online is illegal. Now, assuming Cook only used that name in the private forum he is probably ok. However if Cook posted as Motl anywhere else, he is going to have a problem unless he clearly stated that he isn't Motl.

    Given the zany antics that Cook gets up to, well, I wouldn't be surprised if this has legs.

    It seems that some people still haven't learned that the internet has law just like everywhere else.

  16. Slee, I am quite familiar with that case. I'm actually quite familiar with identity theft due to my interest in network security as identity theft is a major issue in the field of network security (more money is lost to it than anything else). Usually the acts I'd have to worry about involve more clear cut illegal activities, but still, knowing the law helps. Which is why I know for the case of Raphael Golb, what he did was clearly illegal. And stupid. Impersonating actual people in order to harm their careers is not something you should do. And spending years in court appealing verdicts instead of accepting a plea deal with a light slap on the wrist is just stupid. And saying:

    So pretending to be someone else online is illegal.

    Is just wrong on its own. Pretending to be someone else online is no more illegal than doing so in person. If you pretend to be someone you're not in person to defraud someone, you can go to jail. That's true whether you do it in person or online. If you pretend to be someone you're not in order to try to damage their professional careers, you can go to jail. That's true whether you do it in person or online. If you pretend to be someone you're not in order to talk to people about how to knit sweaters... you're not going to go to jail. That's also true whether or not you do it online or in person.

    And to be clear, Cook is not "probably ok." He is okay. There is absolutely no reason to think he is anything other than okay. There is no evidence we should care that he posted under the name Lubos Motl. At all. And the fact people are still talking about it is just silly given there is actually a story that we could be talking about, but for some reason just aren't.

  17. How many people reading Watts Up With That would know that quote attributed to me wasn’t real? Given what I’ve seen in that thread, I’m not sure any would.

    Doesn't this sort of underscore what Cook was trying to prove with his experiment, namely that following fake skeptic blogs make you stupid?

    And all seriousness aside, as I don't know myself if I'm really curious or just trolling, but am I wrong when I say that you are (partly) responsible for this, Brandon, by making that private forum public?

  18. Neven, I don't know how to properly emote to show my reaction here. Imagine a few good guffaws, and you'll get a decent idea. Your first question might as well just read, "I'm really biased!" Because, really, that's all you just said. I mean, if somebody had just said, "Imagine a stereotypical response from the 'other side' to that quote," I would have come up with your response.

    Other than the wording, that is. I wouldn't have gotten the wording the same. I don't think I can be faulted for that though. I generally try not to use words in the wrong way. Or use singular verbs with plural nouns. Or call people stupid while being unable to write simple sentences without making numerous mistakes.

    Yes, I'm mocking you for that. I'm mocking you for that because the bias your remark indicates makes me suspect it would be pointless to point out I feel the people at Skeptical Science are no different than the ones at WUWT save in style. (If you're more clever than I suspect, you'll realize the double meaning of this paragraph is quite significant.)

    As for your second question, I can't tell if you're being dishonest or not. You should know your question is based on a false premise as I didn't make the forum public. If you do know that, then you're being dishonest by asking that question. I'm hoping that's not the case. I'm hoping you just didn't realize the forum was made public long before I even saw it. Because of that hope, I'll point out the people who started this story all had a copy of the forum before I did.

    You can blame me for making the forum readily accessible, but that's hardly a bad thing. The people who started the story could have started the story either way. The forum being readily accessibly just meant everyone who didn't already have a copy had a way to look at the evidence for themselves. I think that's a good thing.

  19. By the way, one of my favorite quotes is:

    There is no greater sin than predictability.

  20. I don't know why you would get insulting over something so trivial.

    Maybe you could clarify - are you saying posts like the following are supposed to be satirical?

    Lubos_Motl: Ocean acidification is a strong sign that humans are raising CO2 levels. But it's also a grave environmental concern as the acidification is causing damage to coral reefs which are some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Adding insult to injury, the increased CO2 causes warming which is causing further damage to the coral reefs through bleaching. Corals provide both evidence for man-made global warming and concern over its impacts.

    I don't see any humour or satire. Other forum members didn't find it funny either. Tim Curtis complained to Cook at the time: "would you please stop posting as Lubos Motl... it is his name, and therefore one you are not entitled to use."

    The forum wasn't private. How are future readers supposed to know that it wasn't Motl making those comments?

    Meanwhile Retraction Watch had a comments policy that they were following on their own website that you implicitly agreed to. Yes, they should clearly indicate their snips and edits. But John Cook shouldn't have to clearly indicate when he's pretending to be a scientist? Fabricating comments in Motl's name? You don't see anything wrong with that? I don't get it.

  21. JamesNV:

    I don’t know why you would get insulting over something so trivial.

    If you can't guess why someone might take issue with defending systematic fraud as being less bad than impersonating someone for an audience that knows what you're doing, I'm not sure I can help.

    Maybe you could clarify – are you saying posts like the following are supposed to be satirical?
    I don’t see any humour or satire.

    I suspect you could take any comedy routine and find parts where, when taken out of context, the comedic elements weren't readily apparent. Part of creating a mock persona which is intended to look bad is creating the veneer of legitimacy.

    Other forum members didn’t find it funny either.

    And... what exactly is your point? Are you suggesting the fact someone didn't find something funny indicates it isn't a joke? If so, that's just silly. If not, this remark tells us nothing. As for your remark:

    The forum wasn’t private.

    I think I'm just going to stop now. You apparently feel I'm getting insulting over trivial things, but... you're just making things up now. The Skeptical Science forum was, without any doubt, private. You don't get to just blithely assert it wasn't then move on as though everyone should just automatically accept such a bold claim as true because you said so. So... yeah, I'm going to stop now before I show you what insulting actually is.

    But before I stop talking, I want to point out while if anyone who actually read those threads did somehow get fooled into thinking Lubos Motl was really posting there, anyone who actually read those threads would have known the people posting there weren't really posting real comments. Because the threads began with a note informing them the threads were for an experiment, and thus, would they please post comments fitting specific criteria. It then gave a link to a topic which explained in detail the nature of the experiment and the fake comments being sought. So if somebody did get fooled into thinking Lubos Motl was posting at Skeptical Science (dear god, how could they be that stupid?), they would then have to think he was participating in an experiment where he was posting fake comments to help Skeptical Science with an experiment.

    And... be fooled into believing his fake comments somehow indicated something about himself, I guess? I'm sure it makes sense to somebody. Not me. I'm too sober.

  22. Brandon, I'm glad your own biases are strong enough to make any wrong right again. Although this is probably useless to point out, of course. Everyone is biased, some more than others, some more aware of it than others.

    I feel the people at Skeptical Science are no different than the ones at WUWT save in style.

    Perhaps, but one side is denying the possibility that AGW-induced climate change could have serious effects, up to the point that AGW itself is denied. The other side doesn't do this and takes the science seriously. I don't know for sure what is more stupid, but I do have an opinion, of course.

  23. Hm, I seem to recall a post or two on this blog showing that the forum info was accessible to the public but maybe I'm thinking of something else.

  24. Neven, I hope you realize:

    Brandon, I’m glad your own biases are strong enough to make any wrong right again.

    Is nothing like anything I've ever said or believed, and is really a pretty stupid thing to say. I mean, if you were wrong, you would look petty and foolish for making an untrue accusation. If you were right, you would look petty and foolish for making a snide and petulant remark. Either way, you look bad because you're actively choosing to try not to have a real discussion.

    I have no problem with insults. People are free to insult me as much as they want. But if they have any interest in productive discussions, they should be clear with their insults. They should say what I've done wrong or what is wrong about me. Doing that allows for an examination of the situation to see if people agree with it, if I can offer a rebuttal of it, or if perhaps I can change it.

    But simply making snide, vague and petulant remarks serves no purpose but to sound like whiny little brat. See how I did that? I insulted you, but I did it in a way which made it so we could move forward and have a productive exchange if we choose to.

    Perhaps, but one side is denying the possibility that AGW-induced climate change could have serious effects, up to the point that AGW itself is denied. The other side doesn’t do this and takes the science seriously. I don’t know for sure what is more stupid, but I do have an opinion, of course.

    Your own bias creeps in here when you say "takes the science seriously." In my experience, Skeptical Science doesn't take "the science seriously." It certainly takes "some science" seriously, but there is other science it doesn't take seriously at all, and the determining factor isn't sound scientific judgment. Judging by some of the articles, it isn't even sound scientific comprehension. Or basic reading skills. Because some of what they say just doesn't even match the text they discuss.

  25. I suppose I should clarify my point. I obviously wouldn't say my biases are strong enough to blah, blah, blah. What I meant by my statement was I've never said or thought anything which would indicate what Neven said was true. It was really bad wording on my part. I nearly went back and edited my comment because the Edit button was right there, but I remembered the Edit button is only there because I'm logged in as an admin. It wouldn't be fair for me to take advantage of admin abilities in a discussion like that.

    And JamesNV, there was a security hole which would have allowed a person who was dedicated to collect all the forum material by collecting all the database transactions on a day-to-day basis and recreating the forum from it. That doesn't make the forum public though. Even if someone did access the material, they would clearly be doing so via a security hole.

    And again, the posts the comments were on were clearly labeled as being part of an experiment. They began with a note explaining their purpose. Anyone who read the threads would understand their purpose and know the comments on them weren't intended as real comments.

  26. I'm thinking of the SKS forum Nazi images that were publicly accessible.

    Regardless, I tend to agree with Motl:

    The name was used without my permission to attract the attention of some people or make them think, at least for a while, that the comments had some relationship with a quality person, myself, even though they were actually written by someone who doesn't have any of these qualities. So it's in principle a fraudulent activity whether it was done on the street or during some secret rituals of an unhinged sect.

    And Tim Curtis:

    “would you please stop posting as Lubos Motl… it is his name, and therefore one you are not entitled to use.”

    I can't talk about legality. I'm pretty sure what Retraction Watch is doing is perfectly legal, no? Is it ethical to use Motl's identity in a scientific experiment without his permission? It strikes me as wrong-headed at the very least.

    But I wasn't aware that the comments written in Motl's name were so well documented as being fake. Thanks for clarifying that point.

  27. *headdesk*

    Lubos Motl's name wasn't used to attract anyone's attention. The only people who would have seen it were ones who were in on the thing already.

    Lubos Motl's name wasn't used in the experiment. It was used in the experiment design phase. John Cook explicitly said he planned to remove names prior to the experiment.

    Seriously, did you guys even read the threads you're talking about? It would save us all a lot of trouble people would just get some basic details straight.

    (And actually, what Retraction Watch did was copyright violation.)

  28. Ugh. Forgive any typos in that last comment. My new phone is far worse to type on than the old one.

  29. Seriously, did you guys even read the threads you’re talking about?

    Not me. With all these blog posts you'd think I'd come out of it reasonably informed. **shrug** Hopefully my ignorance serves a function. It seems like a tempest in a teapot.

    It was wrong-headed regardless, but these are the guys who dress themselves up as Nazis behind closed doors.

    What study was it for btw?

  30. Have you seen this:

    [Updated July 25, 2015] ....However, while a number of readers thanked us for raising the level of discourse and for correcting errors, rather than simply unapproving whole comments, we have received negative feedback on this practice from a small number of readers. Some have recommended that we add a note to say what has been deleted or edited, but we have found in the past that some commenters repost the problematic passages to ask other readers whether they should have been approved.

    So we will now do away with editing comments, and will not approve any that contain material that violates this policy, even if it is a small part of a larger comment. While that means useful information may not be posted if it is included in a comment that violates these guidelines, users are welcome to rewrite comments so that they conform to our policy.

  31. Just reading through 400 comments at WUWT. Oh boy. One from Jo Nova:

    Please don’t send letters to universities about this matter unless/until we get new information about the “UWA experiment” suggesting it is worth doing. As far as the use of Lubos’s name goes, John Cook was having a private joke among a few friends on a private forum. It’s not a legal issue. The faked comments attributed to Lubos were never intended to go public (Cook said so in the forum), and there was no deception involved.

    The “UWA experiment” is not connected to the other published papers of Lewandowsky that we have previously discussed. Whatever it was — it appears clumsy, pointless and badly designed (as per usual) but that is a separate issue to the “lubos” comments. It may never have been finished or published.

    For what it is worth, Brandon Shollenberger has a good grip on the situation. Read his comments carefully.

  32. No, it wasn't identity theft per se. But Cook owns a bit more of the issue than he accepts in the responses posted on FB and at the SKS site.

    1. He chose to use another person's name when he created fake skeptic comments on climate change topics. Those comments were leaked to the general public after Cook's SKS site was hacked. It could be argued (and I would) that Cook's site was insecure and that he had reason to know about the security issues. He should not have posted under Motl's name in this circumstance or he should have tightened up security so that the information could not be so easily acquired.

    2. Cook's whine regarding "quote-mined stolen correspondence" is particularly lame. SKS continues to host links to the stolen Heartland documents. Whether or not the documents were stolen by Peter Gleick or another person, the documents were acquired by a third party for whom they were not intended.

    3. The tone and content of Cook's manufactured comments are consistent with the treatment of actual comments that Cook gives Motl at the SKS website. The site features a section "Climate Misinformer: Lubos Motl." That section includes phrases that are attributed to Motl without reference. It also features actual quotes which are taken out of context or modified from the original to alter the meaning. For example, ellipsis are used in the following quote to suggest something other than Motl intended, "solar activity...have been driving the Earth's climate for 4.7 billion years and are still doing so."

    The actual quote follows, "More seriously, it is preposterous to compare leprechauns to the clouds, solar activity, volcanoes, ocean cycles, and cosmic rays because all these phenomena - except for leprechauns - have been driving the Earth's climate for 4.7 billion years and are still doing so."


    Rather than using this as an opportunity to go on yet again about conspiracy ideation, Cook ought to do the right thing by offering an apology.

  33. Yeah, I've talked a bit about the change to their moderation policy. It's pretty ridiculous. If Retraction Watch can't secretly edit your comments, they won't paost them? And look at how petulant their update is. Their communication with me about it was even worse.

    The really pathetic thing is their reason for not marking edits. It isn't even a sensible reason. If they mark edits, people might repost the original comment. Seriously. There's nothing to prevent a person from reposting the original comment either way, so... that's horrible. They're saying they can't mark edits because then people would know the comments were edited and perhaps repost the original. So the entire point is to hide the fact the comments changed; if they can't do that, they say it's not worth doing.

    It also means them changing the policy means nothing. Given their stated reason only works if commenters don't know about the secret edits, once the practice was exposed, it became worthless. Them scrapping a worthless program doesn't earn them any points.

  34. DGH, while I agree with your second and third point, they don't follow in any way from your first point. And whether or not somebody could break into John Cook's forum has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it was okay for him to post under Lubos Motl's name. Arguing about the quality of one's looks is pointless as what we do in private is private even if we don't lock our doors.

    Please, don't ruin good points by attaching them to bad ones that are just the flavor of the week.

  35. DGH:

    Question: Where has the fake Motl turned up? Who has seen it?

    - The fake Motl never got outside the development lab: no one has seen it outside the lab, not even the participants in the test.
    - The only reason anyone has heard about it is that people have been upset about a private comment about it, which was made public through theft and then promoted.

    Further question: How did this promotion come about?
    - Stephen McIntyre called it to Motl's attention.
    - Motl wrote it up on his blog.
    - Anthony Watts called attention to it.

    Question: Has anyone seen a comment incorrectly attributed to Motl through this channel?
    Answer: Only the people in the development lab.

    Question: What harm has been done? and to whom?
    Answer: I don't know, DGH: You tell me.

  36. Brandon,

    The security of something we would say behind closed doors as opposed to out in public is exactly the point. The SKS forum was hardly secure.

    You wrote, "I’m not sure anybody deserves to be hacked, but I am sympathetic to the argument, 'If you make it so easy to break in, you deserve whatever happens.' Maybe Skeptical Science was bringing this upon themselves."


    No, they didn't "deserve" to be hacked. And while SKS may have deserved "whatever happens," Lubos Motl did not deserve to have the fake comments become public.

  37. DGH:

    No, they didn’t “deserve” to be hacked. And while SKS may have deserved “whatever happens,” Lubos Motl did not deserve to have the fake comments become public.

    Why not? It's not like the fake comments becoming public would have caused anyone to think they were written by him. We saw this as the fake comments were public for years and nobody thought they were written by him. I saw the fake comments half a year ago, and I immediately recognized they were fake comments. Anyone who read the threads they were in would have realized they were fake comments too. The threads clearly indicated the comments in them were fake!

    The only reason this became an issue is people drew attention to obviously fake comments practically nobody had previously seen to point out they were written under a false name without bothering to point out the comments were obviously fake comments.

    Prior to two weeks ago, it is likely only a couple dozen people saw these fake comments, and it is almost certain every single one of them knew the comments were fake. I don't think you guys could make a bigger story out of nothing.

    But please, keep helping John Cook hide his actual wrongdoings. You guys are showing exactly why he gets away with everything he does.

  38. @Neal J. King

    "Has anyone seen a comment incorrectly attributed to Motl through this channel?"

    Yes. Anyone who has seen the forum has had an opportunity to see the incorrectly attributed comments. The forum was widely distributed and is available online.

    As for harm, I suggested that Cook apologize. I didn't suggest monetary compensation, a long prison sentence, or the loss of a limb. An apology seems to be about right based on the situation.

    Cook appears to have a level of disdain for Motl's opinions regarding global warming science. Accordingly he elected to pen the skeptic comments using Lubos_Motl as a pseudonym. I hardly think that was intended as a compliment. That said, Motl probably counts few if any of the forum members as friends and the damage there was probably minimal.

    Now that the they are visible to the public the comments could have a greater impact on Motl's reputation. The Internet has a long memory. To the extent that Cook's blasé towards SKS site security contributed to the exposure of the comments he is responsible for whatever harm might occur.

  39. Brandon,

    Don't look now but my first comment on this post was aimed at the larger picture - hypocrisy, fabrications, and Ad hom.

    I haven't commented on this matter at WUWT or elsewhere because the other blogs don't seem to comprehend that this incident, including Cook's lame response, is minor. IMHO it's only material in the context of the ongoing patterns of behavior at SKS et al which ought to undermine Cook's reputation in and out of the warmist camp.

    So I'd appreciate not being lumped in with the other guys.

  40. DGH, this post talks about how there was a real story that didn't get told because people turned a complete non-story into a stupid talking point. You chimed in and focused on the complete non-story, claiming it was a story. I don't know why you expect not to be "lumped in with the other guys." You didn't once say anything about the real story or condemn people for exaggerating the non-story in any meaningful way. In fact, you defended the people who exaggerated it by suggested they were reasonable in their exaggerations by saying things like:

    No, it wasn’t identity theft per se.

    As though it was identity theft in any, loose, sense. It wasn't. By continuing to act as thought it was, and by making a number of comments to claim John Cook somehow owes Lubos Motl an apology for roleplaying in a private forum, you lump yourself "in with the other guys." I'm not the one doing it. You are.

    If Cook had used some completely made up name instead of the name "Lubos Motl," what he did would have been exactly as wrong as what he actually did. It just wouldn't have been as weird, funny or interesting. But nobody is going to talk about why what he did is wrong because people like you, and yes, the people at WUWT, keep insisting on pretending his appropriation of the name "Lubos Motl" was wrong when it wasn't.

  41. NJK: “Has anyone seen a comment incorrectly attributed to Motl through this channel?”

    DGH: "Yes. Anyone who has seen the forum has had an opportunity to see the incorrectly attributed comments. The forum was widely distributed and is available online."


    I say now that "DGH said that the moon is made of green cheese."
    Have I just now ruined your reputation, by posting this statement in a context in which there is no reason to believe it is factual?

    In the case of the mis-attributed statements ostensibly by Motl, these too have ONLY appeared in contexts in which it is completely and utterly clear that they are mis-attributed - because it says so, all around them.

  42. You wrote, "– The fake Motl never got outside the development lab: no one has seen it outside the lab, not even the participants in the test."

    In fact the "fake Motl" did escape the development lab and "it" has been seen outside the lab. You were wrong on that point but you continue to press. Have you actually found the comments at this point or are you still making stuff up?

  43. DGH:

    No, what has been seen is people commenting on what was and what was not in the preliminary version of the testing texts.

    Saying that this represents an escape from the lab is similar to worrying about a locust infestation because someone has brought in a copy of an article describing locusts. A description of a locust can't cause an infestation, you need real locusts. And someone saying, "I used a username, L_M, to write comments a1, a2, and a3 on my test system." doesn't make these comments appear magically in anyone else's system. Nor does it cause anyone else to believe that L_M is in any way associated with a1, a2, and a3.

  44. What would be a legitimately sneaky thing to do would be, for example, if I were to register http://www.hi-izuro.org as L_M, login, and then actually try to pass myself off as L_M, thus making comments that I was hoping would be accepted as L_M's comments.

    But it kind of kills the possibility of doing that if the first thing I say is, "I'm not L_M." As soon as you've read that, you know that there is no reason to believe that anything I say has anything to do with the real L_M: It's just some guy on the internet who's managed to score the login "L_M" at http://www.hi-izuro.org.

  45. Neal J. King:

    What would be a legitimately sneaky thing to do would be, for example, if I were to register http://www.hi-izuro.org as L_M, login, and then actually try to pass myself off as L_M, thus making comments that I was hoping would be accepted as L_M’s comments.

    But it kind of kills the possibility of doing that if the first thing I say is, “I’m not L_M.” As soon as you’ve read that, you know that there is no reason to believe that anything I say has anything to do with the real L_M: It’s just some guy on the internet who’s managed to score the login “L_M” at http://www.hi-izuro.org.

    For what it's worth, that can still be a really bad idea, depending on how prominently you make that first remark. For instance, if you registered that domain then made a blog post with that entry, it wouldn't necessarily mean much. Six months later, that post might be buried behind dozens of other posts and never be seen by anyone.

    So it all depends on how well and how prominently you inform people of the charade. In John Cook's case, he put a note at the very top of the threads, and he informed people in the topics advertising the threads. On top of that, the threads were in a private forum they would have no reason to believe Lubos Motl would show up in. In other words, Cook was more than clear.

    That said, there is an interesting argument about notification that's not really relevant to this case, but is interesting enough to be worth sharing anyway. It's actually related to something Cook himself has discussed quite a bit. One problem with misinformation is even when people find out something they believe is untrue, they will often continue to believe it anyway. Because of that, if you impersonate someone else and create negative impressions of them in people's eyes, those impressions can last even after those people realize you were an impostor.

    It's a total non-issue here, but it's still kind of fascinating. I've seen it happen without any intentional impersonation before, too. What happened is a guy heard "Bill said X" and got mad at the wrong Bill. Five years down the line, he still gets mad every time he runs into the Bill who didn't say anything. On a logical level, he knows it was a case of mistaken identity, yet some part of his brain still has a visceral reaction that makes him angry whenever he sees a guy who did nothing to make him angry.

  46. "No, what has been seen is people commenting on what was and what was not in the preliminary version of the testing texts."

    Once again you're wrong. The actual "testing texts" are available for review.

  47. Brandon:

    There was a typing error that slightly misrepresented the example I was giving:
    "if I were to register http://www.hi-izuro.org as L_M, login, and then actually try to pass myself off as L_M, thus making comments that I was hoping would be accepted as L_M’s comments."
    should be
    => "if I were to register on http://www.hi-izuro.org as L_M, login, and then actually try to pass myself off as L_M, [on this very blog] thus making comments that I was hoping would be accepted as L_M’s comments."

    So my intended example of bad behavior was not to set up a new site, but to insert confusion at an existing site - one not my own.

  48. DGH:

    You are incorrect:
    - The texts associated with Motl's name in the discussion were never associated with Motl's name in the testing. No genuine names were used in the testing examples.
    - All of the material reported from the discussion is preliminary. I am not sure if the project was even completed

  49. Oh, I see. Well, if somebody really wanted to post under the name Lubos Motl, and they made it clear they weren't the Motl we know, I'd let them. More than one person can use the same name.

    I wouldn't let them keep switching names, of course. I'd make them pick a name and stick with. But if the name they want to stick with matches somebody else's name, so be it. It's not like you can register a trademark on just any name, or that even if you could, it would mean people would have to stop using it all together.

    In other words, if you're trying to mislead people or cause problems, post under whatever name you want. (And John Cook was doing neither when he posted under the name Lubos Motl.)

  50. Brandon:

    If I were to register here as Lubos Motl (with all appropriate diacritical marks), and issue under that name all sorts of statements about string theory, he might have a case that I would be damaging his professional reputation, since that is his area of expertise, and this is a publicly accessible site.

    I would be more doubtful about a case in which I similarly issued statements about climate change, since I don't believe he could establish the claim of having a professional reputation on climate change that could be damaged.

  51. Neal J. King, your comments on climate change could affect his professional reputation even though his career isn't tied to it simply because they could affect his reputation on a broader scale. If a person sounds crazy in one academic field, that can hurt his reputation in other academic fields. Sort of like how if you just made comments that made him sound like a horrible person (think criminal), that could affect his professional reputation.

    But that'd be a hard thing to prove. He'd have to show your statements weren't just bad enough they'd hurt a person's reputation in a field, but that they're so bad they'd hurt his reputation with people outside that field. I guess it wouldn't be as hard given global warming is a hot button topic so being perceived as having a sufficiently wrong view on the subject could impact one's career moreso than views on other topics might. Still, it'd take a lot of doing for you to meaningfully impact his career. I'm pretty sure posting at just this site could never accomplish it. I'm nowhere near that popular 😛

    Now if you start impersonating him at many different sites, and maybe even e-mailing people under his name, well... that might be a different story. You do that, and even if you're only talking about climate change, you might get yourself in trouble. Especially if you list his credentials in the e-mails. Because if you try to steal credit for his achievements by listing his credentials as your own, that's a whole different story. People don't have exclusive rights to their names, but they do have exclusive rights to the things they've done on their own.

  52. Neal,

    I used the phrase "testing texts" in quotes to reflect your usage of the phrase in reference to the comments in the forum posts. I've never suggested that the tests, if they exist, are publicly available.

    The fact is that nobody, except for you, is "commenting on what was or what was not in the preliminary version of the testing tests." That's because the comments are publicly available. Most of us know exactly what Cook wrote using his Lubos_Motl handle.

    So have you happened upon those fabricated, mis-attributed comments yet? Or are you still making stuff up?

  53. DGH:

    I believe you're impervious to reason, so I won't respond to you further on this topic.
    [But just to be crystal clear: I'm quite definite that you are wrong, and for the reasons already stated a few times already.]

  54. Brandon:

    If I were pretending to be L_M, even if I claimed L_M's credentials, I would not be stealing his credentials from him: I need to keep them associated with L_M so that I would have someone credentialed to impersonate. What I would be trying to do would be to misrepresent L_M's views.

    Misrepresenting him on string theory would be much more risky than on climate change, because:
    - the range of knowledgeable opinion in string theory is much narrower than in climatology; and
    - L_M has much more invested professionally in string theory (such as actually published papers).

    So a smaller misrepresentation, if believed, could cause his reputation greater harm.

  55. While I understand your general point, simply posting under the name Lubos Motl and actually claiming his credentials are two very different things. Nobody has exclusive rights to their name. Posting under someone's name only matters insofar as it takes their identity.

    That's why using their credentials matters. Once you do that, you are impersonating them, no ifs ands or buts. You do that, and you can't claim to merely be using the same name. You can't claim to have some benign intent. All you can do is say, "Yes, I was dishonest, but it didn't hurt anyone."

  56. Well, if I were posting under his name (without ""), I would be trying to pass my postings off as his. Not as narrow as claiming his credentials, but proclaiming these thoughts as his entirely, with all the authority and/or responsibility thus due.

    Perhaps we are differing primarily on what the phrase "claiming his credentials" means.

  57. Neal J. King, remember, you said:

    What would be a legitimately sneaky thing to do would be, for example, if I were to register http://www.hi-izuro.org as L_M, login, and then actually try to pass myself off as L_M, thus making comments that I was hoping would be accepted as L_M’s comments.

    But it kind of kills the possibility of doing that if the first thing I say is, “I’m not L_M.” As soon as you’ve read that, you know that there is no reason to believe that anything I say has anything to do with the real L_M: It’s just some guy on the internet who’s managed to score the login “L_M” at http://www.hi-izuro.org.

    Which shows posting under a person's name isn't enough to appropriate their identity. You can post under a person's name yet act in a manner which makes it clear you are not that person. That is the point I'm making.

    In other words, simply posting under Lubos Motl's name is not enough to claim his identity as your own. Claiming his credentials as your own is enough to claim his identity as your own.

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