Anthony Watts Defends Fake Quotation

Apparently I spoke too soon. In my last post, I wrote:

In any event, I think that resolves this issue. There don't seem to be any facts in dispute anymore. I could write a few paragraphs to condemn dishonest and unethical behavior, mock people for their lack of skepticism or any number of other things, but... eh. I'm tired of worrying about that stuff. Instead, I'd like to point something else out: I was right.

I'm not saying that to gloat (well, maybe just a little). I'm saying it because this was so incredibly obvious to me. A professional newspaper provided two different versions of the same quotation within one article, and somehow, nobody at the newspaper and nobody promoting the story across the internet noticed. That's just crazy.

This, of course, was in reference to the fact the newspaper The Independent ran a story in which a professor named John Wiens was confronted with the hypothetical situation in which he met Donald Trump. When asked what he'd tell Trump in such a situation, The Independent quoted Wiens as saying both, "Kill yourself immediately" and "kill himself immediately."

I thought that peculiar and argued one of these quotations must be fake. My last post discussed how according to Wiens himself, the actual quotation was "kill himself immediately." The result of this is headlines like this one, were inaccurate:

There was more to things as The Independent secretly edited its article some time after I first questioned the quotations, something I find despicable (in response, it has re-edited the piece and hid the fact the changes were initially secret). There may be other aspects as well, but I thought things were finally settled as it seemed there was no longer any dispute over what Wiens had said.

Unfortunately, it appears Anthony Watts, proprietor of a major global warming "skeptic" blog Watts Up With That, has chosen to continue to claim the fake quotation is real. I don't understand it, but after seeing a tweet of his:

I thought things would be resolved. Watts updated the post in response to the issues I raised. I figured that meant he'd add a note warning readers the quotation used in his headline was inaccurate due to relying upon a news story which included a mistake. That wouldn't be a big deal. It'd maybe be a bit embarrassing, but so what? Nobody would have condemned him for it. I would have even praised him correcting the record.

But he didn't. Instead of correcting the record on this very simple point, Watts decided to double down on the fake quote. His update begins:

*UPDATE/CORRECTION: This post was based on an article in the Independent, which has since been changed.

Then goes on to highlight a bit of what I've covered in my last two posts. He follows this by saying:

Many other outlets, including Yahoo News picked up the story.

This has come about because the biologist in question made a joke, and the reporter used the quote verbatim. The blog “On Second Thought” delved into the details:

As I pointed out to that author on Twitter several times during the discussion he refers to, The Independent provided two different versions of the same quotation. Both cannot be real. For whatever reason, he did not discuss that issue in his piece. He does, however, quote Professor Wiens as saying:

Obviously, I hoped that this would be the end of the topic. He persisted. I did therefore say that Trump should “kill himself immediately” (i.e., his doing this seems about as likely as him following any recommendation from an obscure scientist like myself about stopping climate change). I then made sure that it was clear that it was a joke.

Which shows Wiens saying the quotation was "kill himself immediately" rather than, "Kill yourself immediately." That means, according to Professor Wiens, the headline used for that Watts Up With That article is incorrect. It uses a fake quotation. And while Watts quotes this very statement from Wiens in his update, he says "the reporter used the quote verbatim" and:

So for those confused by the headline, Weins did in fact say that, intended it as a joke, and thought he was in the clear.

Those confused by the headline might be further confused by the fact Watts uses a statement from Professor Wiens in which he claimed to have said "kill himself immediately" as proof his headline which used the quotation, "Kill yourself immediately" is accurate. In fact, Wiens did not say what the headline claims he said (according to Wiens, at least). Watts has no basis on which to claim otherwise.

Why does Watts double down and defend this fake quotation? I can't say. I can't read people's minds. I'd prefer not to think Watts is intentionally saying things he knows to be false. Interestingly, I discussed a similar matter with the author of the piece Watts quoted during our Twitter exchanges. It was about what The Independent had done, but my view is largely the same on this as well:

Why won't Watts just admit he ran a piece which used a fake quotation? I don't know. What I will say is I didn't anticipate he wouldn't. I figured he'd ignore this issue or make an accurate quotation. There's just no sensible reason to continue defending this. Even worse, Watts adds extraneous text to his update which includes yet another completely baseless statement:

So for those confused by the headline, Weins did in fact say that, intended it as a joke, and thought he was in the clear. This illustrates the perils of making jokes while talking to a reporter. President Ronald Reagan learned the hard way back in the 80’s with his famous bombing quote. From the Wikipedia account*:

"On August 11, 1984, United StatesPresidentRonald Reagan, while running for re-election, was preparing to make his weekly Saturday radio address on National Public Radio. During a sound check before the address, Reagan made the following joke to the radio technicians: 'My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.' The joke was a parody of the opening line of that day’s speech: 'My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they’ve too long been denied — the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are allowed to do.'[1]

Contrary to popular misconception, this microphone gaffe was not broadcast over the air, but rather leaked later to the general populace.

Just reading the material Watts quotes shows Ronald Reagan didn't tell this joke to reporters. He told the joke to sound technicians. The story then leaked to reporters. Why would Watts say Reagan "learned the hard way" the "perils of making jokes while talking to a reporter" while using an example in which Reagan didn't talk to a reporter?

I don't know. There might be some insight to be found in his closing remark though:

So for all those people who got their panties in a twist over this (Brandon S. for example), that’s the clarification.

-Anthony Watts

Watts never quoted or directed anyone to anything I said, so I'd say this is a pretty lame swipe. More importantly though, Watts seems to think I'm getting my "panties in a twist" because I do things like criticize people for using fake quotations. Watts portrays me (and unnamed others who probably don't exist) as acting unreasonably, but what exactly is he deriding? I haven't been ranting, screaming or cursing. All I've done is say people should be quoted accurately and changes to published material should be marked so readers are aware.

Panties in a twist? Watts wrote 600 words and made multiple inaccurate remarks while posting a backhanded swipe against me when all he had to say was something like:

Update: The headline for this post inadvertently used an inaccurate quotation due to a newspaper it relied on making a mistake. The word "yourself" should have been "himself." This error was repeated in text quoted in the post as well. It shouldn't change anything.

And everything would have been over. I'm not sure why Watts feels my panties are in a twist, but I thought this was over. I assumed I wouldn't write anything more about this topic again. It never occurred to me when confronted with an explicit statement of what the correct quotation was, Watts would write a petty, 600 word update to insist a fake quote was actually real.

I don't expect people to get outraged about the phrase "kill himself immediately" being changed to, "Kill yourself immediately," but Watts quoted Professor Wiens explicitly stating he had said "kill himself immediately." It is simply bizarre Watts would do that then claim the quotation, "Kill yourself immediately" is accurate.

Hopefully this will be the last post I write about this. I still can't believe I've had to write as much as I have simply because people can't be bothered to quote what others say accurately.

*The quotes Anthony Watts provides from this Wikipedia article is inaccurate in that it begins, "On August 11, 1984, United StatesPresidentRonald Reagan..." The Wikipedia article correctly places a space between each of these words. I assume Watts accidentally removed those spaces while copying the links over. It doesn't change anything.

20 comments

  1. I've actually looked at that code of Cowtan's before, but I've never bothered to try to run it due to what I'd consider a poor approach to it. I get people like to use what they're familiar with, but they really should explore less cumbersome approaches. Reading:

    This page provides code and data required to reproduce calculations from the report. A unix-like system is required (Linux or Mac), although a Windows system with MinGW may also do. Python 2.6/7/8 is required along with the numpy/scipy and matplotlib libraries. The PHA test requires Scientific.IO and a Fortran compiler. Shell scripts require csh/tcsh. A rudimentary knowledge of the Unix command line is assumed.

    Makes me want to groan. Granted, part of that is because the idea of using Python 2.6/2.7 makes me want to take up carpentry as a profession instead. Python is a bad enough language already. We don't need to make things worse by using an outdated version of it. The changeover from the PYthon 2 to PYthon 3 series made the language so much better.

    Anyway, GISS's code doesn't interest me much as GISS's adjustments to the data have had little effect ever since GHCN 3 came out. Now GHCN does more of the data processing, including combining station records. It's funny really. I keep seeing "skeptics" accuse GISS of fraud for changes in its results which it had no control over How could GISS be guilty of fraud because GHCN changed its data handling? It's very strange.

    I actually have a lot of material I've been meaning to write up about homogenization and adjustments to the data. I had started a series a couple months back, but I've kind of given up on technical analysis given the things I keep seeing. I swear there seems to be no value in doing good work right now. Being accurate, right and honest seems to actually get one penalized in climate discussions. I may just go back to building my climate wiki.

  2. Quick note. I edited this post to fix a broken HTML tag in the last paragraph. I hadn't closed an <a> tag on a link, and as a result, two words didn't show up and the next link was broken. The missing words were part of a quotation, so it turns out I inadvertently misquoted someone. Kind of funny.

    Hopefully I can be forgiven for typing '.' instead of '>' when doing the formatting for that paragraph. Sometimes I think it's remarkable such a small thing can cause so many problems. I look forward to the day programming languages and parsers will be able to recognize such typos and interpret the intended meaning correctly. I suspect it won't be any time soon.

    Which really makes me wonder why people talk about their fears of super-AIs all the time. If machines can't do something that simple, who really thinks Skynet could happen?

  3. It is not clear 'kill yourself immediately' is a fake.
    Most people(perhaps WorldPopulation -1) do not think it is a big detail whether it is 'yourself' or 'himself'. Grammatically they are different though.
    To have a followup confirmation by the speaker of "kill himself immediately" is not definitive as he is probably just thinking about confirming whether the statement was made, not the specific wording.
    You can say you would say to Trump "Kill yourself immediately", or can say that you would tell Trump to "Kill himself immediately".

    The original story is "when asked what he would say to the President-elect if he met him"
    If that is an accurate quote of the question, which is not in quotation marks in the article, then the correct response is "Kill yourself immediately". He might have responded "I would tell him to kill himself immediately".
    I don't see how "Kill himself immediately." cannot be a correct quote unless the question is what do you want Trump to do or something like that.

    Also, I'm not sure what the style is, but 'kill himself immediately' was used in single quotes while the rest of the article is double quotes, except for instances of made up quotes, though these were also within double quotes. Is it correct form to have "X...'Y....' with no closing double quote?

    I don't know if it was a joke, but you put no close quote and left out the /<a>/ you meant to put. My browser appears to have filled it in. I put a closing tag at the start of this post.

  4. MikeN, it is possible for someone to believe Professor Wiens provided an inaccurate quotation, but Anthony Watts didn't say or suggest that. He quoted Wiens as proving a quotation that is different from what Wiens provided was correct. That's nonsense. Either we know what the real quotation was, and it isn't the one used in the WUWT headline, or we don't know what the real quotation is. Perhaps i should have given that more consideration/space in this post.

    Also, I'm not sure what the style is, but 'kill himself immediately' was used in single quotes while the rest of the article is double quotes, except for instances of made up quotes, though these were also within double quotes. Is it correct form to have "X...'Y....' with no closing double quote?

    My experience, which I checked against a few recent articles, is The Independent uses single quotations in headlines and subheads. It uses double quotations in the body of articles. As for your question, what you refer to is wrong, but I think you missed an important detail. There's a rule that often gets forgotten when it comes to quotations. It's for quotations which include multiple paragraphs, For such quotations, you put an opening quotation mark at the start of each paragraph but only put a closing quotation mark at the end of the last paragraph. This indicates it is one continuous quote. It doesn't get used as much nowadays because of blockquote tags, but it's definitely a real and correct thing.

    I don't know if it was a joke, but you put no close quote and left out the // you meant to put. My browser appears to have filled it in. I put a closing tag at the start of this post.

    I actually forgot browsers will not ignore opening tags without a paired closing tag. The rules on how browsers interpret HTML are weird. It's even worse when you add in WordPress's extra layer of parsing submitted comments. Anyway, I fixed the HTML issues in both of our comments.

  5. So your solution was to switch < for &lt? I think there is another way using slash or quotes, but can't find it.

    You wrote
    In fact, Wiens did not say what the headline claims he said (according to Wiens, at least). Watts has no basis on which to claim otherwise.

    I have shown he does have basis to claim otherwise. Also, your proposed update would have been incorrect, as more changes would be required.
    Again, most people consider the quotes to be interchangeable, and would not label it a fake, at least for blog purposes.

  6. MikeN:

    So your solution was to switch < for &lt? I think there is another way using slash or quotes, but can't find it.

    I think there are a couple other ways, but if so, I don't know them.

    You wrote
    In fact, Wiens did not say what the headline claims he said (according to Wiens, at least). Watts has no basis on which to claim otherwise.

    I have shown he does have basis to claim otherwise.

    I have no idea how you think you've shown this. Watts basically claims Weins saying he said "kill himself immediately" means the quotation, "Kill yourself immediately" is accurate. That's nonsense.

    Again, most people consider the quotes to be interchangeable, and would not label it a fake, at least for blog purposes.

    I won't speak to what "most people" view as standards regarding misquotations. Donald Trump was elected as President. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if "most people" would accept the wholesale fabrication of quotations. Goodness knows Trump made up all sorts of things without any real consequence. That doesn't mean it is okay to make up wildly untrue and bizarre stories then state them as fact though. In the same way, misquotations are misquotations even if people aren't bothered by it.

    By the way, this isn't just a change of pronoun. It's also a change of capitalization. The difference between, "Kill yourself immediately" and "kill himself immediately" also changes the sentence structure involved. The phrase, "Kill yourself immediately" is a full sentence while "kill himself immediately" must be part of a larger sentence. Additionally, as I've pointed out multiple times, "Kill yourself immediately" is an internet meme while "kill himself immediately" is not. Whether or not Professor Wiens was meaning to use an internet meme is an interesting question.

  7. Capitalization was why I said "Kill himself immediately." is not the correct quote. Wiens uses lower case, but I don't think he was paying attention to the wording. It is simply a matter of how the sentence is phrased. "I said I would want Trump to 'kill himself immediately'", vs "I said I would tell Trump 'Kill yourself immediately.'" I doubt he could even remember which is correct. The reporter presumable could clarify.

  8. Brandon, do you think that Cowtan and many other leaders in "the consensus" are being melodramatic about presumptions of danger of Trump inquisition caused data loss from clumsy terminations? Or, do you believe that legitimate scientific knowledge is threatened? I'm not saying it's implausible that heads are going to roll but that is a different matter. Do you think the climate scientists photographed in white lab coats and protest signs outside the AGU conference was legit?

  9. MikeN:

    Capitalization was why I said "Kill himself immediately." is not the correct quote. Wiens uses lower case, but I don't think he was paying attention to the wording. It is simply a matter of how the sentence is phrased. "I said I would want Trump to 'kill himself immediately'", vs "I said I would tell Trump 'Kill yourself immediately.'" I doubt he could even remember which is correct. The reporter presumable could clarify.

    First, nobody has said this exchange was verbal, so it could well have been conducted by e-mail. That wouldn't surprise me. If so, Wiens could easily have copied and pasted the text directly from an e-mail.

    Second, neither phrasing you suggest seems likely to me. Here is what Wiens says of it:

    Obviously, I hoped that this would be the end of the topic. He persisted. I did therefore say that Trump should “kill himself immediately”

    Note, this is not phrasing it as an order like has been commonly portrayed. It also isn't an expression of what Wiens would want to have happen like in your portrayal. The choice of capitalization makes perfect sense if Wiens had said something like, "I would tell Trump the best thing he could do for the world is 'kill himself immediately.'"

    Incidentally, these differences are why accurate quotations are relevant even if "most people" might think these differences don't matter. Telling a person to kill himself is quite different from saying it'd be better for the world if they killed themselves.

  10. Ron Graf:

    Brandon, do you think that Cowtan and many other leaders in "the consensus" are being melodramatic about presumptions of danger of Trump inquisition caused data loss from clumsy terminations?

    Useful data has been lost in the past for all sorts of reasons, including things as simple as, "We just didn't think to archive a copy." Given the things Trump and some of the people on his team have said, I wouldn't call these fears entirely unreasonable. If Trump and his administration start canceling programs, I can certainly see why data might get lost.

    Or, do you believe that legitimate scientific knowledge is threatened?

    I think a person could accurately believe fears of data being lost even though if it's not true "that legitimate scientific knowledge is threatened." Joking aside, I certainly think Trump's administration poses a real threat to scientific knowledge to some extent or another. Even if current knowledge weren't threatened, Trump routinely says things far divorced from reality and will have a not-insignificant influence on the financing of scientific programs.

    I'm not saying it's implausible that heads are going to roll but that is a different matter. Do you think the climate scientists photographed in white lab coats and protest signs outside the AGU conference was legit?

    I think the protest had less to do with any existing data being lost and much more to do with things like Trump and his people suggesting they might cancel any number of scientific programs. I don't know who might have protested where, but I can certainly understand why scientists might engage in such a protest.

    For a short version of my answer: It's not unreasonable for someone to believe Donald Trump is a corrupt, dishonest, tyrannical megalomaniac. It's difficult to be unreasonably paranoid about what he might do as the leader of a major country.

  11. > It also isn't an expression of what Wiens would want to have happen like in your portrayal. The choice of capitalization makes perfect sense if Wiens had said something like, "I would tell Trump the best thing he could do for the world is 'kill himself immediately.'"

    It also makes sense if the conversation was
    "What would you say to Trump?"
    "Kill yourself immediately."

    When asked to confirm later, he could say
    Obviously, I hoped that this would be the end of the topic. He persisted. I did therefore say that Trump should “kill himself immediately”
    or
    Obviously, I hoped that this would be the end of the topic. He persisted. I did therefore say that I would tell Trump “Kill yourself immediately”
    I think the latter is less likely in this case. Seems a bit strange. I wouldn't explain it that way.

    When I speak of capitalization, I am talking about the quote in the original article.

  12. If you think Professor Wiens misquoted himself in that e-mail, there is no reason to think you can interpret the phrasing of the rest of the sentence as indicating what the real quote would have been. If he got the quotation wrong, then he'd likely write the explanatory text to fit the incorrect quotation. If he were going to provide to a different quotation, he'd also provide a different sentence for his explanation.

    As for the the capitalization in the original article, the two versions use different capitalizations. I'm not sure what you think we should draw from that. Personally, I'm not inclined to draw any conclusions as I don't trust the publisher to do things well enough to enable any such interpretations. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they changed the capitalization of quotations.

  13. Brandon, I would not be surprised if there were less grant funded exploratory tree ring studies but I seriously doubt that will affect science. What changes to tax funded climate science would you support?

  14. I've said it a number of times, but unlike most people, I think the appropriate response to global warming concerns is to increase funding to study the planet's climate. As part of this, infrastructure should be set up to collect and organize all relevant information and data in a centralized location which would be made available to anyone and everyone. As part of this, detailed documentation of all questions related to global warming would created so that information and data could be cross-referenced with the specific issues and sub-issues they'd be relevant to. This would allow easy access to all information relevant to any particular question. It would also allow easy discernment of which questions needed further study.

    It would be a large project and require extensive funding, but if global warming is as serious issue an issue as many people claim, it should be studied and addressed in a systematic, organized fashion. The amount of work done on important questions should not be left up solely to the whims of academics and the terms of their grants.

    This boils down to one simple belief: If global warming is truly a threat to civilization, academia is not suited for dealing with it. We need a better approach. That no academics advocate for something like this suggests to me global warming is nowhere near as big a threat as is portrayed. What has always struck me is the difference between these two views:

    "Global warming is the greatest long-term threat to civilization. Don't worry though, we've got this."
    "Global warming is the greatest long-term threat to civilization. We don't feel comfortable with the idea of the fate of civilization possibly resting in our hands. Please help us figure this situation out."

    The former is deranged. It's also much closer to the position of global warming advocates than the latter is.

  15. "Don't worry though, we've got this."

    Yes, exactly, it makes no sense. Why all this concern for proprietary rights to cubby-hole their data away, sharing only with "The Team." The progress on almost all fronts is anemic. The IPCC models get validated at the same pace that we observe the system directly. What's up with that? And, there's no room for any scientist that doesn't strictly conform. Man caused climate damage is a pseudo religious edict that seems to springs from the skepticism of the legitimacy of humanity itself. It's the classic, "They are ruining everything." They gave the diseased blankets to the native Americans as gifts." This is most directly evidenced in the resistance to nuclear energy. Since nuclear was the big bad guy before genetically modified foods and climate change, it must remain a pariah lest we alienate a portion of the congregation. If nuclear is unsafe it certainly could be made safe with less resources than changing the atmosphere of the sea level.

    If the warming was not man caused I feel that it would not be a political debate. Or, perhaps the roles would be completely reversed, with the conservatives rolling up sleeves to tackle it with practical innovation investments. And, to bring on board the denier liberals the conservatives would focus science on areas that can be validated with controls and predictive reproducible to persuade with actual science rather than professional career pressure.

  16. Ron, my feeling is that if the predominant energy source today were windmills and solar panels, liberals would be running all over with science that we are interfering with the transfer to Nature of energy and causing lots of damage. There would be scientists all over signing on and presenting evidence of this damage. The prescribed policy solution would be to undertake large infrastructure projects with promise of jobs to unearth the remains of dead dinosaurs in place of the existing energy sources. Those who are against would be compared to those who don't believe in evolution, and refuse to acknowledge the existence of dinosaurs.

  17. George Will wrote a column about it many years ago, that you can drop liberals in anywhere and they would try to destroy the traditions no matter how benign.

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