Misquotations are Bad

I have a couple topics I'm supposed to be writing posts about (does anyone remember my correlation series?). I regret how little progress I"m making on them. However, the nonsense going on at Climate Audit has been keeping me distracted. I love that site. It has had more impact on my life than any other site on the internet. It's also going to hell due to the things its proprietor, Steve McIntyre, has been saying and doing of late.

I don't want to talk about all the nonsense that's been going on there lately. If I talk about things like how denying Russia invaded Crimea is both insane and morally repugnant, I might start getting bitter and angry. I'd rather focus on something that at least has some humor in it.

Namely, I'm going to talk about a bizarre case of misquotation. All misquotations are wrong, but what effect they have can vary greatly. Soemtimes a misquotation involves a minor error which doesn't impact the meaning. Other times it can change a person's meaning to the point of libeling them. Then there are cases where the misquotations are... just weird.

This is a the introduction for a quotation in the latest Climate Audit post:

The first technical analysis was by Breaking 3.0. Their article is no longer online, but lengthy excerpts are in a contemporary article, which stated that the attackers came from Algeria and Iraq, using a Java flaw and used pseudonyms NAJAF and JoHn.Dz:

Basically, there was a hack at a TV station, and a company named Breaking3.0 looked into it. This is followed by a quotation stated to be from the linked article, presented as:

Anti-Daesh hackers have gone up the trail of the attack that paralyzed TV5 Monde and its websites. According to them, the computer at the origin of the piracy is in Algiers. name: NAJAF, nickname: JoHn.Dz. A second computer, located in Baghdad, reportedly participated in the attack. Exclusively for Geopolis, William Raymond, founder of Breaking3.0 reveals the scenario of the attack.

“We started to work with several on this attack, just before 10 pm. We are on the brink since the attack against Charlie Hebdo and the computer attack of 19,000 French sites. We were able to go up the track fairly quickly, “ says William Raymond of Breaking3.0 .

The computer at the origin of the cyberattack is based in Algiers. Name and alias of the pirate: NAJAF, JoHn.Dz. ” Dz as the signature of all the Algerian hackers. The colors of the Algerian flag are found on each page of TV5 hijacked by the cybercaliphate, name they gave themselves, “explains William Raymond.

According to the Breaking3.0 site, the Algerian hacker was reportedly helped by a computer located in Iraq. It would belong to a named Khattab. ” The hacking of TV5 was done via a Java flaw. A fault on a particular computer: that of the social network administrator of the chain or a PC directly connected to the control room. ”

How did this virus enter the TV5 network? The maneuver is disconcerting of simplicity and rapidity. ” It is for a hacker to grab a user’s IP via Skype. One of our sources did it in front of us, on one of our computers to illustrate it. TV5 journalists like many other media use Skype. Including in their communications with certain jihadists. ” For Breaking3.0, ‘c ‘ is probably during one of these sessions – recent – that the IP address has been stolen, and with it, the identity of the channel network” .

Now, I don't see any "lengthy excerpts" from a report in that quotation. I'm not sure any of the quotations are even taken from a report. That is weird enough on its own. However, things get weirder when you click on the link for the quotation and see the article begins:

Des hackers anti-Daech ont remonté la piste de l'attaque qui a paralysé TV5 Monde et ses sites Internet. Selon eux, l'ordinateur à l'origine du piratage se trouve à Alger. son nom: NAJAF, son pseudo: JoHn.Dz. Un second ordinateur, situé à Bagdad, aurait participé à l'attaque. En exclusivité pour Géopolis, William Raymond, fondateur de Breaking3.0 révèle le scénario de l'attaque.

That is not English. That is French. The article is entirely in French. You would never know that looking at the Climate Audit post though. There's not a single mention of the article having been translated. Much further in the post, after quoting another French article half a dozen times, McIntyre writes:

L’Express then observed that APT28 had previously targeted media outlets with phishing emails, summarizing (Google translation) that French intelligence had concluded that APT28 was implicated and the CyberCaliphate was a false flag:

But this just adds to the weirdness. McIntyre quoted one article six times, then before quoting it for the seventh time, he randomly decided to throw in a note about using a translation. If he was going to inform readers he was using a translation, why wouldn't he do it right when he first started quoting the article? Why would he say he's using a translation for this second French article but not mention it for the first?

I can't explain that. If you're going to use a translation in your writing, especially if you're going to use a bad, automated translation from Google, you should say so. Not only is it the right thing to do, but there's no downside to it. Why use what is (if only technically) a misquotation rather than just a note saying, "Translated by Google"?

I don't know, but it turns out things are much, much weirder than that. I was the first person to respond to this Climate Audit post, about an hour after the post went live. I noted how the translations were poorly (or not) disclosed, said I was skeptical of one aspect of how the article was being interpreted based on the translation provided then said:

Adding to my skepticism is how the first quote in the “Initial Attribution” section is a misquotation. I was able to get the exact same text as used in that quote block with Google Translate, but when I do, there are numerous sentences which I got that were not included. Obviously one doesn’t have to include all text from a source when quoting it, but when you cut out parts of a quotation, you have to indicate such to readers by using things like ellipses.

That's right. The quotation as presented at Climate Audit cuts out large swaths of text without giving any indication of having done so. Not only that, but except for me, nobody has said a word about it. The first comment on this post points out how it grossly misquotes a source, and not a single person seems to care.

Even stranger, there's no reason for this. As much text as was removed with this misquotation, it doesn't do anything that couldn't have been done just by adding in some ellipses and a note mentioning how the text had been translated by Google. Why use a misquotation when not using a misquotation accomplishes the exact same thing? I don't know, but I think it's hilarious. This post was so weird it made me laugh to the point I felt like I was dying. Granted, that was largely because I have a cold and the laughter caused some bad coughing fits, but... well, it's really weird.

To show what I mean, here is the Google translation for the full article, with the portions quoted at Climate Audit in bold (with one image and caption removed):

Anti-Daech hackers have gone up the trail of the attack that paralyzed TV5 Monde and its websites. According to them, the computer at the origin of the piracy is in Algiers. her name: NAJAF, her nickname: JoHn.Dz. A second computer, located in Baghdad, reportedly participated in the attack. Exclusively for Geopolis, William Raymond, founder of Breaking3.0 reveals the scenario of the attack.
"We started to work with several on this attack, just before 10 pm. We are on the brink since the attack against Charlie Hebdo and the computer attack of 19,000 French sites. We were able to go up the track fairly quickly, " says William Raymond of Breaking3.0 .

The computer at the origin of the cyberattack is based in Algiers. Name and alias of the pirate: NAJAF, JoHn.Dz. " Dz as the signature of all the Algerian hackers. The colors of the Algerian flag are found on each page of TV5 hijacked by the cybercaliphate, name they gave themselves, "explains William Raymond.
...
A second computer would have been indispensable. According to the Breaking3.0 site, the Algerian haker was reportedly helped by a computer located in Iraq. It would belong to a named Khattab. " The hacking of TV5 was done via a Java flaw. A fault on a particular computer: that of the social network administrator of the chain or a PC directly connected to the control room. "

" The investigation is launched, we are determined to make it succeed quickly , "said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve outside the headquarters of the international French TV channel in Paris, where he had gone with his colleagues Foreign Affairs and Culture, Laurent Fabius and Fleur Pellerin. Will investigators find information? "It all depends on what has been erased or not. "

Scenario of the attack according to Breaking3.0
" It is 21:50 in Paris when one of the subscribers of the Twitter thread of Breaking3.0 informs us of a problem with Twitter account of TV5 Teach, "writes Breaking3.0.

" His page has been" defaced "and the chain logo is replaced by" cybercaliphate ". His latest tweets are now a pro-Islamist propaganda tap. "

It is now a little over 22 hours and one by one the social relays of TV5 fall under the control of the pirates: Twitter, Facebook, Youtube then the website.

Modus operandi du piratage
" The hacking of TV5 was done via a Java fault ," adds the site.

The name of the virus ... Isis (Daech in English). How did this virus enter the TV5 network? The maneuver is disconcerting of simplicity and rapidity. " It is for a hacker to grab a user's IP via Skype. One of our sources did it in front of us, on one of our computers to illustrate it.
TV5 journalists like many other media use Skype. Including in their communications with certain jihadists. "

For Breaking3.0, 'c ' is probably during one of these sessions - recent - that the IP address has been stolen, and with it, the identity of the channel network"

Now, at the time I thought this translation was exactly identical to the one provided by McIntyre save for the ellisions. It turns out that's not the case. There are some minor differences like "Anti-Daesh" vs. "Anti-Daech" and "her name: NAJAF" and "name: NAJAF." I don't know I get those differences, but it doesn't impact the point. McIntyre simply excised a significant portion of the text he quoted without doing anything to indicate so.

That's weird, but it gets weirder. The quotation I provded from McIntyre's article is the text as I originally saw it. Internet archives prove that text existed even after I submitted my comment. However, that is not the text you will see if you visit the post now. Here is the text you will see now:

Anti-Daesh hackers have gone up the trail of the attack that paralyzed TV5 Monde and its websites. According to them, the computer at the origin of the piracy is in Algiers. name: NAJAF, nickname: JoHn.Dz. A second computer, located in Baghdad, reportedly participated in the attack. Exclusively for Geopolis, William Raymond, founder of Breaking3.0 reveals the scenario of the attack.
“We started to work with several on this attack, just before 10 pm. We are on the brink since the attack against Charlie Hebdo and the computer attack of 19,000 French sites. We were able to go up the track fairly quickly, “ says William Raymond of Breaking3.0 .
The computer at the origin of the cyberattack is based in Algiers. Name and alias of the pirate: NAJAF, JoHn.Dz. ” Dz as the signature of all the Algerian hackers. The colors of the Algerian flag are found on each page of TV5 hijacked by the cybercaliphate, name they gave themselves, “explains William Raymond.
According to the Breaking3.0 site, the Algerian hacker was reportedly helped by a computer located in Iraq. It would belong to a named Khattab. ” The hacking of TV5 was done via a Java flaw. A fault on a particular computer: that of the social network administrator of the chain or a PC directly connected to the control room. “
How did this virus enter the TV5 network? The maneuver is disconcerting of simplicity and rapidity. ” It is for a hacker to grab a user’s IP via Skype. One of our sources did it in front of us, on one of our computers to illustrate it. TV5 journalists like many other media use Skype. Including in their communications with certain jihadists. ” For Breaking3.0, ‘c ‘ is probably during one of these sessions – recent – that the IP address has been stolen, and with it, the identity of the channel network” .

I bolded the change. If you still have trouble spotting it, that's understandable. It's a small change. All that was changed was an ellipsis was added after the fourth paragraph. That fixes a large portion of the problem, but there are still things like the line, "A second computer would have been indispensable" missing and paragraph breaks having been removed. If McIntyre was going to edit his post in response to what I said, why didn't he fix all the problems? Why only fix one?

More importantly, McIntyre didn't say a word about this change. He didn't mention the edit in his post, he didn't respond to me to thank me for drawing his attention to the error, nothing. He read my comment, saw he had screwed up, made a change which failed to fully address what I said and didn't say a word to anyone.

That's not okay. We can leave aside the inappropriateness of secretly changing things after they've been published. There's a much more troubling issue here. McIntyre saw he made a mistake, and rather than admit it, he tried to cover it up. As a result, anyone reading my comment is going to be misled as they'll compare what I said to the text as it exists after McIntyre's change. That makes for a big difference. When someone sees me say:

Obviously one doesn’t have to include all text from a source when quoting it, but when you cut out parts of a quotation, you have to indicate such to readers by using things like ellipses.

They'll likely be confused because they'll see the ellipsis McIntyre added. My remark:

I find it incredibly difficult to pay attention to the substance of a post when it does things like use bad translations without informing readers or cuts (significant) portions of quotations out willy-nilly.

Will ring hollow because McIntyre secretly changed his post to try to cover up the error.

The craziest thing about this is there is a long history of McIntyre pointing out errors only to have people change things to address what he said, often without disclosing the changes and never while credit to him for pointing them out. McIntyre has been very critical of this, accusing people of plagiarism for doing it. I supported that as he was right.

McIntyre likes to say what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If that's true, then surely what's good for the gander is good for the goose.

5 comments

  1. I want to post two quick notes. First, I didn't discover the secret change McIntyre made to his post until after I began writing this. I thought he had simply ignored the fact i pointed out his misquotation. I was wanting to write a post about how it's weird to stand by a misquotation which serves no purpose. Discovering the change McIntyre made obviously changed things. I tried to update the part of the post I had already written to address that, but it's possible the edits didn't fully resolve my change in perspective.

    The second note is more important (to me, at least). I had to modify the CSS for this blog to let me use bolding in quotes as the theme disabled that feature for some reason. While I was making that change, I decided to turn off the italicization of quote tags to see how it looks. I'm not sure if it's better or worse. Feel free to tell me if you think it looks bad and should be reverted to the way it was Doing that won't affect our ability to use bolding in quote tags.

  2. Recently, I wanted to use italics in a post but couldn't, because they're already italicized...so I figured I could turn off italics after the blockquote tag. But it didn't work. I had to use the bold for emphasis, which didn't really get the point across as I wanted to do. For that reason, I think that turning off italicization of quote tags is a good idea - as it enables one more tool to help make written text more nuanced and speech-like. Plus, it seems to me that the italicization along with indentation in blockquotes is redundant, anyway - I don't see any real advantage to it.

  3. Thanks for the feedback Joshua. I think it looks a bit weird, but that may just be due to it being different. I definitely like having the extra formatting options available.

  4. As an update, Steve McIntyre edited one of my comments to add this inline remark:

    Steve: I don’t agree that there was a “gross misquotation” in the post. However, there was a missing ellipsis in the first two quotations which I’ve remedied.

    I think he may have a point about my calling this a "gross misquotation," but presenting a bad translation as the original source, removing one sentence from a paragraph and removing half a dozen other paragraphs from a quotation seems like a fairly large thing to me. Regardless of how one feels about that choice of adjective though, this remark shows I was right that McIntyre made the change I said.
    However, because inline remarks like this are not timestamped, what this will not show is that McIntyre only acknowledged the change after I wrote this post.

    I don't get the rationale of making changes that mask the record of how things develop. I point out an error; McIntyre made a secret change which hid it. I pointed out McIntyre made this secret change; McIntyre edited a comment to add a remark which makes it appear he disclosed the change voluntarily. He also went on Twitter and said this to me:

    you pointed out missing ellipsis in 2 quotes, then nagged me for not correcting within 1 day. I checked, corrected late yesterday.

    Because after I pointed out the error, I included this paragraph in a response to another user:

    Heck, he hasn’t even fixed the gross misquotation in this post I pointed out yesterday. If people want to talk about skepticism, I’d say using misquotations and choosing not to address/correct them when they’re pointed out is a good reason to be skeptical of a person’s commentary.

    It's difficult to see how I "nagged" McIntyre with a one remark in 24 hours that wasn't even directed at him. Besides which, he was actively commenting during those 24 hours. If he wants sympathy about not correcting an error in 24 hours, the obvious question is, why didn't he say anything? It would have taken him all of 30 seconds to write something like, "I'll look into this." That would have required acknowledging the issue rather than trying to hide things though.

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