Monday Moderation Madness

Have you ever said something then immediately wished you could take it back? It's especially bad on the internet, where there's a permanent record, right? You know, you write something in a comment, hit Submit, and immediately wished you hadn't written it.

Maybe you realized your tone was way ruder than it ought to have been. Maybe you realized you just made some boneheaded mistake. Whatever it is, we've all done it before. We've all written something and wished we could take it back. But we've all understood we couldn't.

But what if you could? It turns out if you run a blog, you can change comments however you want. So if you want to fix a mistake you made, you can. You can cover up any mistakes you make, hiding them from the world. It's really shady, but it turns out, some people do it.

Specifically, I happened to see there was a post at Watts Up With That titled "An Update On The Real Deniers." I don't usually read that blog, but it's in my RSS feed, and that post title was irresistible. I had to see what the post said. When I went to it, I saw things like:

They then came up with 52 and counting excuses for the facts not fitting the hypothesis. These are similar attempts to explain away or deny conflicting evidence. AGW proponents even set up web sites to obfuscate, deflect and deny, The first was Realclimate set up at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU). As Gavin Schmidt explained in a December 2004 email,

Colleagues, No doubt some of you share our frustration with the current state of media reporting on the climate change issue. Far too often we see agenda-driven “commentary” on the Internet and in the opinion columns of newspapers crowding out careful analysis. Many of us work hard on educating the public and journalists through lectures, interviews and letters to the editor, but this is often a thankless task. In order to be a little bit more pro-active, a group of us (see below) have recently got together to build a new ‘climate blog’ website: which will be launched over the next few days:

Scepticalscience is another web page designed to contradict or deny evidence that shows the AGW hypothesis is wrong.

That's not a problem with my copying losing formatting. The post really does nothing to separate out the quotation from Gavin Schmidt. In fact, it reformats Schmidt's quotation in a way which causes a minor misquotation. I thought that was funny and was going to make a quick remark about it, but then I saw:

A woman who spoke with Gavin Schmidt after a presentation at the University of Victoria wrote to me on July 26, 2015, with questions. She noted that,

“He (Schmidt) also directed me to the website to do my own research.”

This recommendation is not surprising because John Cook credits Schmidt for coming up with the idea for the web page.

I find it somewhat unlikely a person would provide that link in an e-mail given it wouldn't work. John Cook's website is spelled with a 'k' not a 'c'. That's a minor matter though. What really stood out to me about this John Cook never credited Schmidt "with the idea for the web page." What he credited Schmidt with was one particular idea for how to display things on the website.

I was going to add a quick remark about that to my comment, but then I read on and saw things like:

CO2 is only 4 percent of the total greenhouse gasses and the human portion is only 3.4 percent of that total.

Which is about as idiotic a talking point as you can find, coming just short of being flat-out denial of global warming. I was surprised to see talking points like that and others posted on Watts Up With That, but then I saw:

As Chris Booker points out, few exposed the extent of the manipulation, especially in the US, better than Stephen Goddard through his web site Real Science. In an article titled “Hansen – The Climate Chiropractor” Goddard asks, “Need your climate adjusted? – call Dr. James Hansen at GISS.” Figure 4 illustrates what Goddard describes as

“…Hansen’s remarkable changes to the pre-1975 temperature data. He simply removed that pesky warm period from 1890 to 1940.”

And was just flabbergasted. Steven Goddard used to post at WUWT, but he was disinvited from the site after the people there realized he was too irresponsible with his behavior for even them. And yet, here he is, with his paranoid rantings being promoted as legitimate material.

So once I saw that, I decided there was no point in making a reasoned or detailed comment in response to the post. Instead, I just said:

So… Steven Goddard’s paranoid rantings are now considered okay here? And remarks like:

· CO2 is only 4 percent of the total greenhouse gasses and the human portion is only 3.4 percent of that total.

Aren’t just laughed at for being hugely misleading? And this site, which has repeatedly complained about calling people deniers, has no problem labeling people deniers now?

What is going on?

The host of the site, Anthony Watts, quickly responded to say:

Brandon, as you know, I can’t control what commenters say. You are using an incorrect application of a broad brush to imply “Steven Goddard’s paranoid rantings are now considered okay here” As you may know, Goddard (Tony Heller) became unwelcome here due to his inability to come to terms with an incorrect statement he made about CO2 freezing out of the air in Antractica. That’s why he no longer guest authors here. Don’t make assumptions about the entire blog based on what commentators say.

Which shows my point about Goddard's paranoid rantings being paranoid rantings is correct. It also shows Watts's response was completely off-base, with him foolishly acting as though I was responding to commenters when the reality is I was criticizing a main post on the site.

Now, that's the sort of mistake a person might wish to pretend hadn't happened. You can't though. It was published on the internet for all to see. There's no way to hide that.

Or maybe there is. You see, Watts does run Watts Up With That. He can edit and delete comments there however he feels. That means he can delete his comments to cover up his mistakes if he wants. It wouldn't stop people from having records of those comments, like shown in this screenshot from my RSS feed:


But it would stop people reading his site from seeing his screwups. Right now, anyone reading that page will see:


His comment has vanished. And if you follow the link I gave for his comment, you'll see it doesn't take you to his comment either. Because Watts deleted his own comment. Watts screwed up, and rather than admit his mistake like anyone else at his site would have to do, he just deleted his comment to cover it up.

Think about how great that must be. Imagine if every time you ever wrote something you wished you hadn't written, you could go back and delete it. Or maybe just edit it. I mean, if Watts is willing to delete his own comments, what's to stop him from editing them? And if he can edit/delete his own comments to cover up his mistakes, what else is he willing to do?

The craziest part of all this is Watts publicly said Goddard's paranoid rantings aren't welcome at Watts Up With That. But now he knows they had been promoted at his site, and rather than take any action to address the contradiction, he's just secretly deleted his comment to cover it up.

What kind of nonsense is this? Who thinks it's okay to tell people they're wrong, then pretend you didn't say anything when you realize you're actually the one who is wrong? Who thinks it's okay to use their moderation powers to cover up their mistakes?

And who the hell thinks it's okay to label people deniers after spending a decade complaining about being labeled a denier, or to promote the raving lunatic known as Steven Goddard?

1:15 PM Update: Things just get richer. Some time after I submitted my comment showing quoting the comment Watts had deleted, Watts un-deleted that comment so now a person looking at the page will see:


Making it appear the comment has been there all along. In other words, because I caught Watts's secret deletion, he undid it. That's not okay. He now says:

Brandon, I’d planned to clarify that in an edit, But got distracted with phone calls before I could edit it to be correct for the context. People make mistakes, just like you did with the blockquote. But I’ll take the criticism of my comment as is.

But that's not okay either. Nobody else at WUWT gets to edit their comments to correct mistakes they might make. The fact Watts runs the site doesn't make it okay for him to edit his comments after the fact to correct for mistakes. Watts would never accept this sort of behavior from Skeptical Science or Real Climate. And with good reason. It's dishonest. You don't participate in discussions while taking advantage of your moderation powers to ensure you have an advantage over anyone you're talking to.

But hey, maybe we've at least made progress on one topic. I emphasized that point in my response to Watts (currently in moderation, or else I'd provide a link):

Alright. So um… cool. Good to know I can be told I’m wrong at any time even when I’m not, only to have the comment saying I’m wrong taken down so people won’t see it and/or edited to correct the mistake thanks to moderation powers giving people abilities no other commenter has. That seems entirely… horrible.

But whatever. I’m just happy to know it’s now apparently settled that calling people “deniers” is okay…? I’m still completely baffled on that, but at least we can stop having discussions over how wrong it is to use the word now? That’d be nice.


  1. Yes I made a mistake, my edit would have included a note that that context I got from your comment was wrong. It's just unfortunate timing that I got a phone call right at that time and I had to leave for a few minutes before I could get back to it. That created the impression that I took it offline to "hide it" rather than address my own mistake. When I got back I realized the problem was compounded. My apologies.

    The original comment is there, with the added clarification link pointing to this:

    The solution for the future is to simply add a clarification or pointer to a clarification/subsequent comment in brackets, while keeping the comment live. Thanks for bringing this mistake to my attention.

  2. You know Anthony Watts, there's another solution. It might sound crazy, but you should consider the possibility you could refrain from using moderation powers when participating in discussions all together. Thousands of people comment at your site without having the ability to edit their comments. They get by in discussions just fine. You could too.

    You don't have to give yourself advantages not available to anyone else in order to talk to them. If you make a mistake, you can just post a new comment correcting it like anyone else would.

  3. Gentlemen,

    I have an immense amount of respect for both of you, driven by your dedication to the often thankless work of running a blog, and the standards of integrity and objectivity you both strive to maintain.

    Please keep up the excellent work.
    Thank you.

  4. I have an off topic request.

    I do not know R.

    I know that R can do what I am looking to do.

    I am looking to monte carol a series of variable to get an array of history matches. Out put would be a grid of R^2 values and other accuracy measures and a series of plots of the matches over some threshold of quality.

    These "quality" match parameters would then be used to history match other samples to eventually work down to a sub set of 3 or 4 that are the best fit in all cases.

    Anyone who has an R package close to this that could be adapted or has some guidance.....

  5. Hey Ben, I don't mind the off topic request. R can definitely do what you're wanting to do. I'll have to wait a little bit to describe some of your options though. I managed to break the cord to my keyboard, and that's rendered my computer largely inoperable for the moment. I can type comments from my phone, but trying to explain R command on it wouldn't work so well.

    I should be able to pick up a replacement keyboard this evening though, so I'll try to get back to you tomorrow.

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