An Interlude for Embarrassment

I've been interested in the American Civil War ever since I realized the narrative about it being fought over slavery I had heard as a child was inaccurate. This normally wouldn't be important, except recently there has been a thread as lucia's place, The Blackboard, in which the subject has been discussed. A user there had used the Civil War as an example, and a comment I wrote in response sparked a lengthy discussion.

Now, I wasn't planning on referencing that discussion here. The disagreements there... did not play out like discussions should, and I developed a rather negative view of a couple people because of them. I wouldn't want to write a post or anything about the thread because it would feel petty of me even though I think there's a number of interesting things in it I could write about.

I maintained this view for quite a while, especially with the discussion there seeming to be dying out. Then a user named oneuniverse wrote a comment in which he said this to me:

I doubt many people here would agree with you. I know I don’t. Your criticism about the difficulty of meaningful discussion seems to me to be much more applicable to yourself. You’ve previously misrepresented others’ while accusing them of doing the same, and accused them of not addressing your points while failing to address theirs (you’ve certainly done this with me) – the above seems like further hypocrisy.

As I said, I see the “pathetic” behaviour as being on your part. You also seem to put some effort into maintaining a personality that is, all too often, by turns rude, whiny, arrogant, and jeeringly obnoxious – at least, that’s how it comes across to me. I imagine this is fairly disagreeable, if not repellant, to most people, so don’t be too surprised if not many take you up on your offer of discussion – it’s not that they think you’re right, they just don’t want to deal with the unpleasantness. That would be my guess, anyway. From what I’ve seen, Lucia’s analytical skills, understanding of history and people, and general grasp of reality are more advanced than yours, and she seems to put up with your immaturity, so you could actually learn something from her.

Now, I'm stripping out some context because this post isn't really about what had gone on there. I had made critical remarks about behavior exhibited in that thread, and oneuniverse responded with some rather harsh criticisms of me.

What's interesting is what came next. I pointed out oneuniverse's claims were unverifable as nobody could possibly know what instances of my behavior he was referring to, so he responded (in part):

Whoever wants to verify the general criticism (assuming they haven’t independently come to the same conclusion already) can start with your comments at this thread and work backwards. For the more specific reference involving your interaction with me, I had our conversation at Vaughan Pratt’s “Multidecadal climate to within a millikelvin” post at Climate Etc. in mind.

This led to me doing what may well be the most embarrassing thing I've ever done in my life. I looked up the exchange I had had with oneuniverse on that thread, and when I did, I started laughing. I kept laughing the entire time I wrote my response to him, because the example he gave to show I'm a bad person was so ridiculous.

But that's not the important part. The important part is I try to read what I write out loud as I write it to make sure it is worded the way I want. When you get to the end of my response to this guy, hopefully you will see why that led to an embarrassing moment:

Oh god, I had completely forgotten about that exchange oneuniverse. I can't believe you're seriously suggesting people look at it as evidence for your case.

We're talking about a thread where I pointed out Vaughan Pratt had used a parameter in his model which could be tweaked to improve the fit he achieved. He had labeled this particular parameter the "Hansen delay" after work done by James Hansen, and when someone called it a "fiddle factor," Pratt responded:

As first pointed out by Hansen et al in 1985, neglecting this “fiddle factor” can result in gross underestimates of climate sensitivity. Uncertainty in that delay is widely recognized today as a major contributor to uncertainty in climate sensitivity.

I responded to point out this was untrue. His particular "fiddle factor" was being used to address the fact there are delays in response time for what he was modeling, and it is true you have to account for such delays. However, there was absolutely no reason one would have to account for such delays with this particular approach. I was making the simple point that the fact there was a problem didn't mean one had to use this "fiddle factor" to address it. When Pratt responded, his comment included this remark:

I would be delighted if you had a better method than mine for accounting for delays in response time. If you don’t then your complaint that my method is “unjustified” is no more helpful than Goodman’s complaint that my use of Hofmann’s Law is “totally unsuitable.” If neither of you have anything better to offer than what I do then you’re not exactly in a position to complain about my methods.

This is obviously nonsense. A person cannot justify including a parameter in their model by saying anyone who questions its use can't find a better solution so they don't have room to complain. I pointed this out, with a simplistic description, quoting the portion I've bolded here and saying:

I pointed out you’ve demonstrated no justification for including a parameter in your model. Your response is to reverse the burden of proof, saying I can’t prove you wrong therefore you’re right. That’s nonsense. In any modeling effort, you are obliged to show your parameters account for what you say they account for. If you don’t, they are indistinguishable from fudge factors that improve the fit for no legitimate reason.

Now, he obviously didn't say what the literal words of my comment say. However, I had quoted his remark with the assumption people would understand I wasn't being completely literal. I thought they would read his remark where he had literally said if I couldn't provide a better answer I shouldn't complain and understand my description was meant to describe the form of the argument by referring to a classic logical fallacy. That's when oneuniverse joined the discussion, to say my description was wrong. I responded to explain he hadn't literally said what I meant as I was trying to describe the form of his argument not the literal words it contained and commented:

This is actually worse than I described. Vaughan Pratt says to show a flaw in his method I have to go out and find a better approach. If I can’t, I should just shut up. That’s not exactly as I described, but I was trying to be generous.

I could instead write a comment describing the absurdity of demanding people provide a right answer before criticizing a wrong one. Whether or not Pratt’s model is wrong, that’s exactly the argument he advanced in his response to me.

After I had acknowledged what I said wasn't fully accurate, explaining the intention behind my remarks and clarifying what had been said so there would be no confusion, oneuniverse came back with a ridiculously over-the-top comment that said (in part):

You misrepresented what Professor Pratt said (whether or not what he said was wrong).

You’ve often rebuked people who you say have misrepresented you, and you’ve sometimes accused them of doing so out of dishonesty. Since you’re so sensitive to misrepresentation, I’m surprised that you tolerate it in your own actions. Be consistent in applying your judgements, or, preferrably, admit your error(s), instead of excusing them by saying that what Professor Pratt said was actually worse (I disagree, and in any case, irrelevant), and that you’re just being generous.

This was absurd as acknowledging what one said wasn't accurate, explaining how it happened and clarifying/correcting it is exactly what a person should do after making an "error." I did it. Despite that, oneuniverse nearly started ranting about how I needed to "admit my error(s)," which I had already done.

Things went downhill from there, with oneuniverse eventually claiming my depiction of what Vaughan Pratt had said was wrong by pointing to the quote from Pratt seen at the start of this comment and quoting all but the bolded portion, which was the portion I had quoted when I wrote my comment. Having somehow managed to quote everything but what I was responding to, oneuniverse claimed my response was inaccurate...

And that's not even the most messed up part of the exchange. oneuniverse wound up referencing a comment I had made on another thread, asking me a question. I pointed out he would have found the answer if he had looked at the comment immediately after the one he was referencing, a comment I had submitted a mere nine minutes after the former to clarify the comment he was referencing. oneuniverse then acknowledged I was right, saying he should have seen the second comment "back-track" the first.

Naturally, I thought that was weird. I don't understand why a person would call saying something then immediately clarifying it to be backtracking. oneuniverse responded by writing six sentences to explain the clarificatied statement was not identical to the original one... which nobody would have possibly disputed because that's sort of the point of clarifying things. When I pointed out the absurdity of that response, he then said:

It wasn’t immediate “clarification” – it was in made in another comment. Calling it a clarification is a face-saving description

Because apparently he felt it was completely wrong for me to say after writing a comment, typing a four paragraph comment follow-up to it and submitting that within nine minutes was "immediately clarifying" the first comment. I don't know how much more "immediate" my clarification would have had to have been to satisfy oneuniverse since he chose to stop responding after I wrote a comment scoffing at this.

I don't have words for how hilarious this is. This being the example cited for my supposed bad character is too funny. It's the perfect example of how ridiculous this thread is. It's like, "Yah man, look at me. I'm a horrible hypocrite who don't know nuthin about nuthin. I'm biased out the yin-yang and gettin' schooled on a regular basis 'cause I keep misrepresenting things left and right. Check it. I said I immediately clarified things, but really, it took me nine whole minutes. Mmyeah."

There are people who would die of shock if they had heard me when I read that last part out. I'm sure I didn't sound anything like people who actually use the sort of slang I was parodying, but I normally speak the way I write. The idea of me pretending to speak some sort of... I don't even know what, slang with the ridiculous accent exaggerated body motions to go with it is something most people who know me couldn't imagine. I know I can't imagine it. Even half an hour later, I'm still thinking about how if somebody had recorded me when I was reading that part out, I would die of embarrassment.

So yeah, I just had to share for posterity's sake. I don't know how interesting people will find this post, but I want to be able to look back in six months and remember this moment, because if you had told me it'd happen two weeks ago, I'd never have believed you.