Responding to Skeptical Science's Libel

I didn't think this would become a thing again, but the Skeptical Science group is apparently accusing me of hacking them again. There's a long history of these accusations, with the head of the group John Cook even getting his university, the University of Queensland, to send me a threatening letter including the accusation. His university even said they would report me to the police over it. (They never did.)

But I'm not here to rehash all that. Today, I just want to look at the latest accusations being made. Or at least, one of them. A Skeptical Science team member recently wrote this about the material I found:

Intent: John Cook certainly did not intend the files to be public. In fact, I am informed that:
– There were no public links to the files.
.
– URLs had to be obtained from the database of redirect URLs.
.
– The database was password-protected: So it required actlve effort to obtain a username/password match and search the database to find target URLs before the files could be accessed. Once you have the URL, you can give it to anyone. But that’s true of a metal door-lock key as well: Once you have a key, you can make copies and give them to everyone. The block to the public was that decent people don’t try to hack username/password pairs on other people’s systems.

If these claims were true, my actions would have been criminal. They are not true. They are obviously false. Despite this, a few days later King went on to say:

2) Checking out the methods described for getting the two files, fairly thoroughly. My SkS folks agreed that it worked that way the 1st time (for the Photoshops), but they claim it wouldn’t have worked that way the 2nd time, because they put a password system on it. Lucia did a demo, but then she reported a problem with it, so I’m not sure of the situation. It may be that what each side is saying is compatible with the other, but that’s not the way it looks. Maybe something is being de-emphasized in the story: either the effort required for some task, or the possibility of some work-around. I need some 1st-hand information.

No examination of the issue could have possibly supported the claims being made. My explanation of how I found the material in question is easy to check, and it is absolutely indisputable there was no password protection involved. I don't know which "SkS folks" are spreading false information here, but to demonstrate beyond and doubt what they claim is false, I've made a video demonstrating exactly how I found what I found. I encourage anyone who has any doubt the Skeptical Science group is full of it when they claim I hacked them to watch the demonstration:

Oh, and for the record, falsely accusing people of committing felonies is libel. It's kind of a big deal.

34 comments

  1. This is a clear example of the security vulnerability known as 'Insecure Direct Object Reference', A4 from the 2013 Owasp Top 10 list.

  2. Brandon R. Gates:

    So sue them already.

    This is a silly comment. Pointing out falsely accusing people of crimes is libel in no way suggests you should file a lawsuit over it. Heck, it being libel doesn't even mean you could file a lawsuit.

  3. Alan D:

    This is a clear example of the security vulnerability known as 'Insecure Direct Object Reference', A4 from the 2013 Owasp Top 10 list.

    Yup. Interestingly, that exact vulnerability is how the Skeptical Science forum got hacked (by someone else, long before anything I did). John Cook had configured his server to authenticate people by the user ID supplied in a cookie, and he got hacked when someone changed their User ID number to 1, which was his admin User ID.

  4. "John Cook had configured his server to authenticate people by the user ID supplied in a cookie."
    Did he really? Lordy.

  5. Brandon R. Gates:

    The paper tiger strikes again.

    This is a strange remark. I've repeatedly said I couldn't imagine ever filing a lawsuit over anything anyone says. I've also said, on more than one occasion, I have no intention of filing a lawsuit over claims I've hacked Skeptical Science servers. Given I have never done anything to even suggest I'd take legal action over any of this, I cannot imagine why someone would suggest I am a "person that appears threatening but is ineffectual." I've done nothing to appear threatening in the slightest.

  6. HaroldW:

    "John Cook had configured his server to authenticate people by the user ID supplied in a cookie."
    Did he really? Lordy.

    I know, right?

  7. Hacking is fundamentally defined legally as unauthorised access to data on a computer. The degree of skill or effort required is irrelevant. Hackers may not agree with that definition, but their views aren't really relevant either. It's clear that there was no general public authorisation to access the things you found. It's clear that you believed you were accessing information to which you were not authorised. That's hacking.

    I don't know about the quoted list of points in your post, but those sorts of things would only be necessary to show if there were any question over whether access was unauthorised. But there isn't any question in this case. By your own words you believed you were accessing 'locations which they would like nobody to see' and a '"CONFIDENTIAL" manuscript'.

  8. PaulS, could you explain why you say:

    It's clear that there was no general public authorisation to access the things you found. It's clear that you believed you were accessing information to which you were not authorised. That's hacking.

    You aren't a mind-reader, and I've never said anything to suggest I believed I was accessing information I wasn't authorized to access, so I'm struggling to see why you'd say it's clear I believe this. On the legal issue, could you please cite any law or case which supports your claim it's clear there was no authorization? I'm quite familiar with many laws regarding unauthorized access to computers, and none of the ones I've seen contain anything which would make my actions illegal. It'd be nice to know what part of visiting links given to you by a server you think is illegal.

    By your own words you believed you were accessing 'locations which they would like nobody to see' and a '"CONFIDENTIAL" manuscript'.

    This is a rather bizarre claim. The quotes you give were taken after I accessed the material. I'd obviously have no way to know visiting a link would take me to a CONFIDENTIAL document prior to visiting it, so I couldn't possibly have believed I was accessing a CONFIDENTIAL document at the time. Something obviously couldn't become hacking because of knowledge that was only available after the supposed hack happened.

    But again, could you provide the legal basis for your claim? Laws regarding unauthorized access to computers contain clauses describing what sort of access is unauthorized. Could you quote any that would apply to what I did?

  9. As a demonstration of why I ask PaulS to cite/quote a law rather than just his interpretation of it, this is from the Illinois law regarding unauthorized access to computer systems:

    (a-10) For purposes of subsection (a), accessing a computer network is deemed to be with the authorization of a computer’s owner if:
    (1) the owner authorizes patrons, customers, or
    guests to access the computer network and the person accessing the computer network is an authorized patron, customer, or guest and complies with all terms or conditions for use of the computer network that are imposed by the owner; or
    (2) the owner authorizes the public to access the
    computer network and the person accessing the computer network complies with all terms or conditions for use of the computer network that are imposed by the owner.

    Posting material in a publicly accessible location is authorizing the public to access it. One doesn't need to give any additional authorization. Simply putting something online where everyone can freely access it makes it legal for people to freely access it.

  10. You aren't a mind-reader, and I've never said anything to suggest I believed I was accessing information I wasn't authorized to access...

    This is a rather bizarre claim. The quotes you give were taken after I accessed the material.

    You might have been able to get away with the benefit of the doubt if you'd done this once. But, as your video explains, you've been to the location before and were threatened with legal action over it. Claiming ignorance about your recent access being unauthorised is therefore completely ridiculous.

  11. PaulS:

    You might have been able to get away with the benefit of the doubt if you'd done this once. But, as your video explains, you've been to the location before and were threatened with legal action over it. Claiming ignorance about your recent access being unauthorised is therefore completely ridiculous.

    That isn't true at all. I was threatened with legal action over accessing material publicly accessible at http://www.welloiledcatherd.org. The documents I found in this case were at http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/, which not only is an entirely different website, but is also a directory on the Skeptical Science website specifically created to share documents.

    Moreover, no court has ever held simply telling a person you don't want them to access publicly accessible web pages is enough, on its own, to make it illegal for them to access those web pages.

  12. Brandon,

    I cannot imagine why someone would suggest I am a "person that appears threatening but is ineffectual."

    Twice in the space of as many weeks you've accused SkS of fraudulent and now libelous behavior. Twice you have climbed down from the legal sense of those words.

    I've done nothing to appear threatening in the slightest.

    Ever hear of a veiled threat? It's the second cousin of insinuation, like the one I wrote just above. I can make all sorts of claims after the fact about what I didn't actually say. For instance, I would *never* so much as hint that ...

    Given I have never done anything to even suggest I'd take legal action over any of this ...

    ... is a rather cute way of playing the martyr while appearing to stand on the benevolent moral high ground. No sir, what would *ever* give someone such a silly, bizarre, strange, laughable, ridiculous notion? It's *obvious* I didn't intend to imply any such thing.

    "Paper Tiger" is perhaps not the best description of how I perceive your behavior; the image of "noisy but harmless" worked well enough. Plus, it was "nicer" than other terms I could have chosen to use [dot dot dot].

    [skips away whistling oh-so-innocently]

  13. Brandon R. Gates:

    Twice in the space of as many weeks you've accused SkS of fraudulent and now libelous behavior. Twice you have climbed down from the legal sense of those words.

    No. You just arbitrarily chose to interpret my use of the word "fraud" as an accusation of criminal action that must be prosecuted even though the word is often used in other ways.

    And I haven't climbed down from the legal meaning of "libel" at all. What was done here is libel. That I'm not going to file a lawsuit every time I'm libeled doesn't mean I'm climbing down from the legal sense of the word.

    Ever hear of a veiled threat? It's the second cousin of insinuation, like the one I wrote just above.

    That veiled threats can exist doesn't mean I used any. I didn't. You can throw out as much attitude and snideness as you want, but it's not going to magically make threats of legal accusations appear in my writing.

  14. Brandon S.,

    You just arbitrarily chose to interpret my use of the word "fraud" as an accusation of criminal action that must be prosecuted even though the word is often used in other ways.

    That's what happens when you use multi-sense words without qualifiers. Ambiguity is the first line of defense for people seeing plausible deniability.

    I know this because I just did it.

  15. Brandon R. Gates:
    As there was only one correction, "erratum" is preferable. I mention this, even though it is clearly pedantry, because one rarely gets to use the singular form*, so I like to use it whenever I can.

    * well, in my case at least.

  16. Brandon R. Gates:

    That's what happens when you use multi-sense words without qualifiers.

    Indeed. I find when I write with any lack of complete clarity, people who dislike me tend to come along to insist I meant something I never even hinted at then continue to insist I meant it even after I tell them I did not.

    I just find writing to try to avoid having people come along and make absurd claims about me or what I say to be pointless. As you've demonstrated, people who really want to can find any reason to claim I'm wrong. Even that they can't read simple sentences!

    Ambiguity is the first line of defense for people seeing plausible deniability.

    It's also a natural part of human communication in which people choose not to spend an inordinate amount of time detailing exactly what they mean with every word they use, trusting that when a word can be used in many different ways, people will not just intentionally choose the worst interpretation possible when there is no context to remotely suggest that was the intended meaning.

  17. HaroldW,

    As there was only one correction, "erratum" is preferable. I mention this, even though it is clearly pedantry, because one rarely gets to use the singular form*, so I like to use it whenever I can.

    One pedant to another, I appreciate your correction, especially since my Latin is not wholly terrible. I literally gnash my teeth when I see phrases such as, "the data is correct". I'm kicking myself for making the same error on a different word belonging to the same declension.

  18. Brandon,

    I find when I write with any lack of complete clarity, people who dislike me tend to come along to insist I meant something I never even hinted at then continue to insist I meant it even after I tell them I did not.

    One of the oldest rhetorical tactics in the book. I can't even remember when I first learned it OR used it.

    I just find writing to try to avoid having people come along and make absurd claims about me or what I say to be pointless.

    It's tedious. And in a good faith discussion shouldn't be necessary. An ... honest ... interlocutor would ask a clarifying question. I very often deliberately leave myself "open" because that not only gives me an opportunity to learn something from the response, but to also thwak the guy with the "I didn't say that, *you* did" retort.

    As you've demonstrated, people who really want to can find any reason to claim I'm wrong. Even that they can't read simple sentences!

    Sure. I have my biases and prejudices. When I'm fatigued or otherwise not at 100% I make more such mistakes. In our most recent kerfuffle, it really hacked me off that you called my immediate and frank admission of having misread you due to fatigue and *prejudice* that you dismissed it as an "excuse" and kept pressing the point that I'd screwed up.

    If that incident is at all representative of your dealings with others, no *wonder* people are constantly trying to trip you up. Yes, surely many on my side would do it anyway, even if you were unfailingly polite (whatever that really means), but when I see you playing the "what did I do?" [innocent look, blink blink] card, it does tend to make me roll my eyes a bit.

    As I've said here previously, if there's to be a scrap, I prefer a stand-up fight. What that means to me is that nobody pretends to be on the moral high ground, or gets to complain that the other guy is being snide, rude, sarcastic or any other form of sanctimonious self-righteous tone-trolling bullshit.

    When the brawl is done and over (and I do like them to end), it's out of my system, done, not something to be brought up again and held over my sparring partner's head. I've been known to be ripping some guy's guts out on one thread while simultaneously having a calm reasoned, even jocular conversation with the same person on a different thread. And had it reciprocated by same.

    That's the kind of opponent I respect. One that I'm willing to listen to even if I don't agree with them, and don't intend to ever agree with them. It helps if they at least occasionally make really damn good arguments.

    It's also a natural part of human communication in which people choose not to spend an inordinate amount of time detailing exactly what they mean with every word they use, trusting that when a word can be used in many different ways, people will not just intentionally choose the worst interpretation possible when there is no context to remotely suggest that was the intended meaning.

    The fact that you're off the beaten path of the "consensus" view on climate creates an immediate guilt by association because that's *exactly* the "game" so many contrarians, sky dragon slayers, etc. use to attack the IPCC, climate scientists and literature, etc. "We" of course do it too, and probably would to some extent anyway even if "your side" weren't also already so notorious for it. No, it's not fair. Not by a long shot.

    TL;DR, it's a feature of a debate run through with mutual suspicion, dislike, loathing ... if not outright hatred. Which the AGW issue is.

    Do with any of the above as you will; just one man's opinion here, and a far from perfect one at that.

  19. Brandon R. Gates,
    I realize now that my statement on the singularity of erratum can be taken in two ways: I rarely make an error, or I rarely make only one error.

    Thank you for the generous, rather than the realistic, interpretation.

  20. P.S. Your use of "declension" suggests you are way ahead of me in that area, as my knowledge of Latin forms is based solely on Monty Python.

  21. Brandon R. Gates:

    And in a good faith discussion shouldn't be necessary. An ... honest ... interlocutor would ask a clarifying question. I very often deliberately leave myself "open" because that not only gives me an opportunity to learn something from the response, but to also thwak the guy with the "I didn't say that, *you* did" retort.

    The way you wrote this makes it sound like you're labeling your self as not an ... honest ... interlocutor since you didn't ask clarifying questions before going off the rails with your claims.

    Sure. I have my biases and prejudices. When I'm fatigued or otherwise not at 100% I make more such mistakes. In our most recent kerfuffle, it really hacked me off that you called my immediate and frank admission of having misread you due to fatigue and *prejudice* that you dismissed it as an "excuse"

    I think you miswrote this as the grammar doesn't make sense to me. Regardless, it amuses me you'd get upset at me calling your explanation an "excuse" Of all the things that have been said in our exchanges, mostly by you, that's about the most minor thing imaginable to take issue with. And it was a perfectly accurate statement!

    and kept pressing the point that I'd screwed up.

    I kept pressing the point because you intentionally refused to correct your error. What do you expect to have happen? You admitted you knew what you said in a derogatory post was wrong but refused to correct the post, and... what, you thought people should just move on?

    As I've said here previously, if there's to be a scrap, I prefer a stand-up fight. What that means to me is that nobody pretends to be on the moral high ground, or gets to complain that the other guy is being snide, rude, sarcastic or any other form of sanctimonious self-righteous tone-trolling bullshit.

    First off, this entire portrayal of yours is bogus. I haven't tone-trolled at all. The only time I've done anything that might portray myself as morally superior is when you lied for days on end, and I pointed out how wrong that was. You may prefer to be able to do things like lie for days on end and not get called out on it, but that's not a healthy way to have discussions. It's not a way that will get people to talk to you.

    But seriously, you can use whatever attitude you want. I have no problem with attitude. I've never said you are wrong to use it. All I've done is point out you keep screwing up when using that sort of attitude yet doing well when you don't. Personally, I'd want to work on the attitude in your position so I'd stop screwing up so badly, but saying so isn't tone-trolling you idiotic douchebag.

    When the brawl is done and over (and I do like them to end), it's out of my system, done, not something to be brought up again and held over my sparring partner's head. I've been known to be ripping some guy's guts out on one thread while simultaneously having a calm reasoned, even jocular conversation with the same person on a different thread. And had it reciprocated by same.

    That's the kind of opponent I respect. One that I'm willing to listen to even if I don't agree with them, and don't intend to ever agree with them. It helps if they at least occasionally make really damn good arguments.

    I don't hold grudges, but I do hold people accountable. If a person is lying about me and talking to me at the same time, I am going to call them a liar. If a person misreads something I write in a ridiculously stupid way and uses that to insult me, I'm going to laugh about it. I'm going to talk about it. As it becomes less relevant and interesting, I'll talk about it less. Eventually I'll stop talking about it all together. I think an appropriate response to you being unhappy about this is something you said earlier: "Bawwww"

    The fact that you're off the beaten path of the "consensus" view on climate creates an immediate guilt by association because that's *exactly* the "game" so many contrarians, sky dragon slayers, etc. use to attack the IPCC, climate scientists and literature, etc. "We" of course do it too, and probably would to some extent anyway even if "your side" weren't also already so notorious for it. No, it's not fair. Not by a long shot.

    TL;DR, it's a feature of a debate run through with mutual suspicion, dislike, loathing ... if not outright hatred. Which the AGW issue is.

    You know, if I thought global warming were a serious threat we need to take action to mitigate, I wouldn't behave like an brat in discussions about it. I'd hold myself to a higher standard of behavior than the people I dislike. I have no problem calling you a deranged hack who's either so biased he lives in a constant delusional state or is so stupid it's a wonder he hasn't been suffocated by an inability to figure out how to do simple things like inhale air. I generally don't do things like that though because I know it interferes with people's ability to have discussions, and I like having discussions.

    But hey, if you want to fill your writings on a topic you think poses a serious threat to humanity as a whole with imbecilic insults that do nothing but show your own pettiness and incompetence, you can. It's a free world.

  22. Brandon R. Gates, just so you know, I normally try not to discuss semantics. I love the subject, but I know most people don't find it anywhere near as interesting as I do. For every time I talk about it, there are probably a hundred thoughts I have regarding it I don't say. I'm saying this because I don't want you to think I'm picking on you when I point our your comment:

    One pedant to another, I appreciate your correction, especially since my Latin is not wholly terrible. I literally gnash my teeth when I see phrases such as, "the data is correct". I'm kicking myself for making the same error on a different word belonging to the same declension.

    Is entertainingly wrong. There is nothing wrong with saying, "The data is correct." There is also nothing wrong with saying, "The data are correct." Both are perfectly grammatical sentences. In the former, the word "data" is being used as a mass noun. Mass nouns are nouns used for things that are not countable (the tea in a pincher is not countable). Data is singular in this case in the same way "material" or "information" would be.

    In the latter case, the word "data" is being used as a count noun. Count nouns are for things which can be counted (the eggs in the kitchen are fresh). When data is used as a count noun, it can be plural. In that case you would use the word "are" instead of "is" when referring to multiple data points. Neither of these is inherently correct; it's just a matter of style.

    Interestingly, if you are using "data" as a count noun, that means you also get to use the word "datum." In this case, you would use "data" as the plural count noun and "datum" as the singular count noun. I don't know how common that is anymore though. I rarely see the word "datum."

  23. Brandon S.,

    The way you wrote this makes it sound like you're labeling your self as not an ... honest ... interlocutor since you didn't ask clarifying questions before going off the rails with your claims.

    I don't always act in good faith. Since Latin is topical at the moment, I often justify it with: When in Rome. Sometimes though I get the evil in me and go with it.

    Of all the things that have been said in our exchanges, mostly by you, that's about the most minor thing imaginable to take issue with.

    Maybe to *you*. Especially in the context of the AGW debate, "excuse" is a trigger word for me. Been known to make me go postal. I exaggerate, but seriously, if I read "100 excuses for The Pause and counting" one more time, I may not be able to avoid an apoplectic fit.

    I kept pressing the point because you intentionally refused to correct your error.

    I know. But see, at the same time I thought you were making a big deal out of something minor. I simply needed a few days (or a week was it?) to figure out I was being silly if not stupid and just fix the damn post and be done with it.

    Part of what chapped my hide ... still does actually ... is that you just don't get it how badly you twisted my central argument in the Exxon and AGU Funding article into a pretzel, moved my goalposts, and still haven't seen it even after I spelled it out for you. Nor have you fixed it.

    That there is me holding you accountable; and in truth it's probably more a discussion for that thread where it's contextual, not this one.

    First off, this entire portrayal of yours is bogus.

    I'm just telling my side of the story here. I get it you don't agree. It happens.

    I don't hold grudges, but I do hold people accountable.

    Usually the same for me. I just find you more abrasive than I think is necessary when you do it. But really, that's my thing to deal with not yours. Plus it's not as if I'm above taking the 40-grit sandpaper to someone when I think they're asking for it. On that note ....

    You know, if I thought global warming were a serious threat we need to take action to mitigate, I wouldn't behave like an brat in discussions about it.

    In the general case, that statement would fit my definition of tone trolling. In this particular spat between us, not so much. I said something harsh about your position on global temperature trends which was demonstrably false. Hence, your complaint about my being wrong AND my tone in doing so was appropriate. I apologize for having done so, and not fixing it on my blog in a timely fashion when you pointed it out.

    I'd hold myself to a higher standard of behavior than the people I dislike.

    Well here's the thing, I generally think that I do. Many many of my prior and current adversaries would say otherwise. They can suck it. Present company mostly excepted. Overall I think you've been rather fair with me.

    I have no problem calling you a deranged hack who's either so biased he lives in a constant delusional state or is so stupid it's a wonder he hasn't been suffocated by an inability to figure out how to do simple things like inhale air.

    I bet that felt good to write. I rather enjoyed reading it. Cheers.

  24. HaroldW,

    I realize now that my statement on the singularity of erratum can be taken in two ways: I rarely make an error, or I rarely make only one error.

    lol. Way I interpreted it is that when you make an error you rarely make more than one. It did occur to me that you said nothing about your actual error rate.

    Thank you for the generous, rather than the realistic, interpretation.

    Sure. Way I figure it, what better way to annoy our host than to give his guests the benefit of the doubt but not extend him the same courtesy? 🙂

    P.S. Your use of "declension" suggests you are way ahead of me in that area, as my knowledge of Latin forms is based solely on Monty Python.

    Four years, one of them a repeat. That scene always kills me because I've *so* been there and done that. Poor Brian, I feel your pain (in more ways than one). I was either always using the wrong noun case, or knowing which case to use but not being able to remember which endings went with which declension. And every Latin teacher I ever knew was the embodiment of evil when it came to writing tricky exams to exploit poor sods like me who loathe rote memorization.

    Veni, vidi, non vici.

    On the other hand, being such a structured and precise language lends itself to reducing the kind of ambiguities which can be tough to resolve in English and still be compact. Or so I've been told ...

  25. Brandon S.,

    ... I normally try not to discuss semantics. I love the subject, but I know most people don't find it anywhere near as interesting as I do.

    I may not have the same zeal for it you do, but I do like talking about language.

    I'm saying this because I don't want you to think I'm picking on you ...

    I wouldn't think of it. A week ago ... maybe. But I've noticed you don't exactly play favorites. I respect that.

    Is entertainingly wrong.

    I aim to please. So I understand the concept of mass nouns and countable vs. non-countable objects. If I may be permitted a quibble, tea in a pitcher is countable, just seriously inconvenient to do it.

    I could be wrong, but isn't this more of an American English concept? For instance, the British will often say things like, "The BBC are are launching the new series of 'Tea and Crumpets' tonight ..." because the corporation is a collection of multiple people. Whereas we here in the Colonies are so wed to referring to a group of people in the singular that SCOTUS have gone and declared that corporations themselves have human rights.

    But then, SCOTUS is not well-known for always doing the Right Thing as I define it.

    Eeeyow ... it grates. But not as much as saying "the data is bollocks", because the "proper" way of treating the word data as plural noun was hammered into me at a very young age. And yes, on the very rare occasions I've had to use the word "datum", I've done so with a certain sense of smug self-satisfaction and glee. Heck, I probably went out of my way to find a reason to use the singular form.

  26. I don't have a lot of time to comment as I'm about to leave to run a dart tournament (which it turns out is farther from my house than I realized), but a couple quick thoughts. First, I fixed that HTML tag. Second:

    I aim to please. So I understand the concept of mass nouns and countable vs. non-countable objects. If I may be permitted a quibble, tea in a pitcher is countable, just seriously inconvenient to do it.

    Tea in a pitcher is not countable because there is no discrete breaks in it. We didn't say grams or ounces of tea. We just said tea, as a single mass. That's what makes it uncountable. It's often the case you could find a way to break up an uncountable object into countable objects. You can count the grams, ounces or maybe even drops (though with that not having a fixed size, maybe not) of tea in the pitcher. That's just not how the word was used. When "tea" was said, it referred to the whole, not the individual parts.

    I could be wrong, but isn't this more of an American English concept? For instance, the British will often say things like, "The BBC are are launching the new series of 'Tea and Crumpets' tonight ..." because the corporation is a collection of multiple people.

    Nope, but you actually bring up a point I should have mentioned. Uncountable nouns can be singular or plural. Which ones are treated as which does vary between British and American English. A common example given for this is the noun accommodation. In the United States, one would say, "Accommodations are hard to find." In Britain, one would say, "Accommodation is hard to find."

    There are a ton of such differences, and I wouldn't know a fraction of them. I do know there are even differences in which nouns are considered uncountable, which leads to my favorite example of why I think British English is worse than American English: "I've got toothache." That sounds so stupid to me. If you have a toothache, you only have one. To me, that means it should be considered countable: "I have a toothache."

    In any event, the rules on this are the same in both British and American English. The differences between them are just ones of convention. In other words, both use the same categories for nouns. They just don't always put the same words in the same categories.

  27. Oh, and Brandon R. Gates, you say:

    Part of what chapped my hide ... still does actually ... is that you just don't get it how badly you twisted my central argument in the Exxon and AGU Funding article into a pretzel, moved my goalposts, and still haven't seen it even after I spelled it out for you. Nor have you fixed it.

    It would help if instead of just repeating that I've done this and saying you've explained what I did wrong, you would quote what I said and explain how it was wrong. I'm still not sure what you meant, but I did actually discuss what it appears you might have meant, and why it would be wrong if it was in fact what you meant.

    You didn't respond to that though, so I have no way to know if I interpreted you correctly. It seems a bit weird to be unhappy with a person for not understanding something while not responding to their attempt to figure out what you're saying. I wanted to make sure to throw that out there before leaving so you'd have more time to look at what I've said on this topic.

    But now I really need to go. People might be a bit unhappy if they show up for a tournament and there's nobody there to to run it.

  28. Brandon S.,

    Tea is composed of molecules. Countable. I know I know, tea is a mix of different kinds of molecules. I concede the point.

    Re: Exxon. In my mind I explained it to you clearly, didn't get the sense you were hearing me. Pissed me off, especially since one of your favorite phrases is "x is so obviously wrong". You don't need to agree with me to understand my frustration. I'll take another stab clarifying my position, and why I think you contorted it beyond reason over on that thread where it's topical.

  29. Brandon R. Gates:

    Tea is composed of molecules. Countable. I know I know, tea is a mix of different kinds of molecules. I concede the point.

    The best example of how something countable can be uncountable I know of is sand. We could, theoretically, count the grains of sand on a beach. Even so, we talk about "the sand on the beach." That's because we're referring to "the sand" as a single mass, like we would "a crowd" or "the people." In each of these cases, you can count the X in the Y, but you cannot count the Y itself.

    Re: Exxon. In my mind I explained it to you clearly, didn't get the sense you were hearing me. Pissed me off, especially since one of your favorite phrases is "x is so obviously wrong". You don't need to agree with me to understand my frustration.

    I can certainly understand why that might frustrate a person. On the other hand, I also know thinking one has explained something clearly doesn't mean one actually has. Besides, in our exchanges, we've seen even stating something clearly doesn't mean the other person will understand you. Sometimes it will take more than a few sentences to convey the point you want to make.

    By the way, I'm commenting from the bar, so don't expect anything lengthy or substantive for tonight. It looks like I won't get home until 3AM, if that.

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