So Silly

Yesterday I talked about how misquotations are bad because I wanted to show a strange one I found at Climate Audit whose author, Steve McIntyre, chose to ignore. Instead, after the second time I said there was a misquotation, he changed his post to fix a problem he found because of what I said. He then proceeded to say absolutely nothing to anyone about the change he made.

The result was it went completely unnoticed, even by me, until I wrote yesterday's post. I was, I believe understandably, perturbed by this. By changing his post without giving any indication, McIntyre would alter the apparent meaning of my remarks. Anyone who saw me point out problems then looked at the "fixed" version would be misled about what I said. McIntyre defends this, saying:

This denial doesn't deny any facts I alleged. McIntyre claims he didn't make a change secretly, but he doesn't say how anyone could have possibly been aware of the change. On top of this, he doesn't mention the fact he made an additional change to his post which I hadn't noticed. Nobody had.

According to McIntyre, he didn't make any secret change to his post, yet even as he said this, he knew neither I nor anybody else had noticed the second change which I'll discuss today.

Before continuing, I want to point out McIntyre's tweet here says he fixed an error after I "pointed it out a second time." Two tweets before this, he had said:

McIntyre acknowledges I brought this issue up only two times, yet he claims I "nagged" him. According to McIntyre, my two comments in 24 hours highlighting an error in a post he wrote was nagging. That's nuts. Who portrays a person in a negative light, as though they are persistently painful or troublesome because they made a whole two comments in 24 hours?

I'm not angry about that. I'm just baffled at how silly it is. Similarly, I can't get mad at McIntyre making small, secret changes to his blog post then denying there was anything secret about it. While I think that's wrong on many levels, it's so weird all I can do is laugh. I mean, look at the change I was pointing out McIntyre made to his post. Here's the original version:

Here's the updated version:

It's really small. If he was going to make that change in response to things I said, why not throw a quick response up saying something like, "Added an ellipsis to fix this"? There wouldn't have been any downside. It wouldn't have made him look bad. It wouldn't have changed any point he was making. Instead, he made the change and didn't tell anyone, then he denied there was anything secret about making that undisclosed change.

It's even stranger when you realize that's not the only change he made to the post. This is from a quote block in the original post:

McIntyre changed it to this:

He didn't mention that change anywhere either. Why not? What possible benefit could there be to making a change like that without saying anything? Not saying anything is just silly. It's even sillier that McIntyre didn't say anything about this change even after I accused him of making secret changes in regard to the first example.

What is the rationale behind responding to accusations of making a secret change to a post by denying the accusations while intentionally not mentioning the other undisclosed change you made? McIntyre denied making a secret change, mentioned one change he did make and... just chose not to say anything about the other change he had made, a change nobody had noticed yet.

That's just silly. There's no potential upside to doing that. I know some people will dismiss this all as "nitpicking," but if these issues are small and don't matter, what possible reason is there for not getting them right? How could anything be made better by changing a post to fix misquotations in it without doing anything to indicate changes have been made?

Now, after I made yesterday's post McIntyre edited my second comment pointing out his post had issues to add an inline remark which said:

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.

But inline responses like this don't have timestamps so nobody reading his blog will be able to tell he only added that response acknowledging he had changed his post after I criticized him for not disclosing such. Again, that's silly. Unless his purpose was to try to create a false trail which made it seem like he had disclosed what he did of his own volition, why do this? How would anyone be benefitted by making this disclosure in a way which masks how events unfolded?

I don't know. What I do know is the part of all this which makes me laugh the most is McIntyre didn't actually fix the quotation I called into question. You can see how McIntyre misquoted displayed in yesterday's post. For a short version, 1) McIntyre left out half a dozen paragraphs at one point; 2) McIntyre left out a single sentence at another point; 3) McIntyre removed a number of line breaks which had been used to separate paragraphs; 4) McIntyre used a translated version of the text without noting the version he offered was not the original.

Any and all of those would qualify as using a misquotation. McIntyre fixed only #1. The other three problems were left untouched. He didn't even address #2 by adding an ellipsis where he removed a sentence. There's still text missing from his quote. I pointed this out to McIntyre a little while ago. It'll be interesting to see if he chooses to fix it.

Which brings me back to the second secret change McIntyre made, the one I only discovered today. McIntyre added an ellipsis to a quote block I hadn't examined before because he realized he had excised some text from this article. However, if you compare that article to McIntyre's version, you'll find some text is still missing. Here are two lines McIntyre excludes:

Jenxcus and Bladabindi
The Najaf variant - md5 2962c44ce678d6ca1246f5ead67d115a

These were section headers. They are part of the article. While it's fine not to include them if you feel they are superfluous to your point, they are part of the text. If you remove them, you need to indicate so. A couple images were also removed. Given the images were used as evidence to clarify/bolster the case being made, removing them without any indication is, at a minimum, questionable. This created a situation where McIntyre joined these two paragraphs:

Security.Najaf seems to match the online handle of a developer apparently located in the Najaf province of Iraq. He is a prolific poster on the dev-point[.]com forums, a forum which has contained a lot of NJ-Rat/Worm-associated material. He is listed as recoder – presumably modifying programmer – in many other malicious scripts. One example is the file with md5 de8e6e14b7e548eda7d4ff33bb3705ad:

In this file, the C&C server is defined to aziza12.no-ip.biz, a domain which also has been used as C&C by Bladabindi malware such as the sample with md5 a5ce6dcb062ceb91a6fce73e99b3514d. This is a DynDNS domain, meaning that there is no domain registration data to look at. However, if we examine the IP history of this domain, we see that it has mapped to a number of IP addresses over time, many of which are located in Iraq. One of these, 178.73.223.9, has also earlier this year pointed to the domain islamstate.no-ip[.]biz.

Into a single paragraph with no line break. This happened because there was no textual line break in the article, but rather, the break between paragraphs was created by inserting an image.

An obvious question in all this is, "How much does any of this matter?" In and of themselves, I would say none of these examples matter much. What matters is the standards involved. This sort of "quotation" may not change the meaning of something in any particular case, but it is lazy and sloppy. A person can get away with being sloppy for a while, but eventually, they will make a mistake that matters.

What's more important, however, is how people respond to situations like these. I make mistakes. Everybody does. When I make a mistake, I try to acknowledge it, correct it and thank anyone who brought it to my attention. That is what a person ought to do. If a person doesn't do it, it forces people to ask why they don't.

I don't claim any of the errors in that post are important in and of themselves. I laughed because I thought it silly such simple errors got made, but if they had been corrected in a normal fashion, I wouldn't have thought anything more of them. Instead, we got a situation where McIntyre made secret changes to his post which only partially fixed the errors it contained, denied having made any secret changes while intentionally choosing not to mention a change he knew nobody had noticed and made strange remarks like saying a person who made two comments in 24 hours was nagging him even though the comments weren't even directed at him.

That's silly. This is all pointless nonsense that nobody should have to waste their time on, but at the same time, it can't be ignored unless one is willing to disregard errors and untruths. I don't think we should be willing to. If nothing else, once you know somebody secretly edits things they publish after-the-fact, you ought to at least wonder how often they make these sorts of changes. Are these the only two examples, or are there more? Are all other examples as "minor" as these ones, or are some much larger?

I don't know. At this point, I don't know what to think about any of this. All I know is this situation is so silly it's hilarious. This is the sort of bizarre situation I think we should all take a moment to get a chuckle out of. Because honestly, this sort of thing is so silly all you can do is laugh.

8 comments

  1. "What is the rationale behind responding to accusations of making a secret change to a post by denying the accusations while intentionally not mentioning the other undisclosed change you made?"

    FWIW, this all seems to me to be rather typical of the disingenuousness that I've seen from Steve towards people who disagree with him. It also seems fairly normal to me, a lot of people act like that - but it does, IMO, suggest that he isn't someone I could trust to provide analysis on technical issues I couldn't evaluate for myself. But I determined that long time ago.

  2. Skeptical Science did the same, and you can see it on their posts about Mike's Nature Trick, with JeanS's comments looking strange now.

    However, here McIntyre replies that he's remedied in response to your comment, so anyone who reads that should get the right impression that McIntyre made changes in response to your comment.

  3. MikeN, Steve McIntyre only said that after I pointed out he had secretly changed his post though. If I hadn't noticed the secret change he made, there's no reason to think he would have said anything about it. He intentionally refrained from mentioning the fact he made a second change to his post, something nobody had noticed up to that point.

    It's good the situation is somewhat improved (though it's silly McIntyre still uses a misquotation, claiming to have fixed the problem despite me pointing out it's still wrong), but the only reason it is improved is because I caught what he did. What if I hadn't?

  4. Brandon, my personal take on this is that it all depends on perspective, and on personal habits and methods for using tools.

    Examples:
    1) You highlight that SM "removed" images and a line break w/ no indication, and "joined" two paragraphs into a single paragraph. To you, this is apparently a serious misquote.
    - I agree that was the ultimate effect of a copy-paste
    - I will also state, based on significant experience, that such is the natural and normal impact of a typical plain-text copy-paste between two web resources. Depending on perspective, it could (or could not) be a misquote or even a textual change!

    In other words, the web does not automagically retain paragraphs, line breaks, images, or text formatting. And, as a matter of fact, many if not most text-processing tools don't do that either. The flow, sequence and even punctuation of the text is not modified by such a cut and paste.

    My bottom line on this aspect: much of the (textually literate) world still treats text content as the only thing of value... everything else is easily lost along the way. We may not like it, but that's reality.

    (At another extreme: long story short, many years ago I learned the hard way (and with some significant embarassment) that some developing world cultures are not "illiterate"... they are "multimedia"... and our tools and methods are completely inadequate to understand, let alone act with maturity, in their context. I was correctly accused of being unable to "read" a photo that had been sent to me. Not only was I unable to read it, I completely ignored it as superfluous. 🙁 )

    2) In line with #1 above, punctuation is also a historically recent and very culture-specific development (along with standardized spelling.) Different audiences have entirely different takes on the significance of punctuation. The changes you sought, to add ellipses so as to recognize elision of text, fall into this category for some.

    (As a perhaps-extreme example: turns out that in certain famous genealogies, the cultures that carefully recorded various "X begat Y begat Z" provide no indication that their standard of excellence is to preserve the **significant** generations. They simply don't care whether every single generation is recorded or represented. We "moderns" are horrified by such things of course.)

    I say all of this not to defend or promote anybody... but simply for understanding.

    Overall bottom line, from my personal perspective:
    - When I see "misquote" I primary look for **incorrect wording** and particularly **changed meaning**. To quote a dictionary: misrepresent, misstate, take/quote out of context, distort, twist, slant, bias, put a spin on, falsify.
    - It appears to me that you're a hardliner or purist when it comes to quotes, and others have other perspectives. (FWIW, my wife is also more of a purist, and also a grammar nazi: she can't even listen to much music because of the horrible grammar 😉 ) I found this discussion enlightening: http://ajrarchive.org/article.asp?id=1340

  5. MrPete:

    1) You highlight that SM "removed" images and a line break w/ no indication, and "joined" two paragraphs into a single paragraph. To you, this is apparently a serious misquote.

    I don't think I said anything which suggests I view this as "a serious misquote." Relative to other misquotations, I'd say the examples discussed in this post (including the ones you don't discuss) are relatively minor. That's why I said I "would say none of these examples matter much." I would only view them as serious in that misquotations are a serious matter in general. There's no reason for using them when it is trivially easy to avoid doing so.

    In other words, the web does not automagically retain paragraphs, line breaks, images, or text formatting. And, as a matter of fact, many if not most text-processing tools don't do that either. The flow, sequence and even punctuation of the text is not modified by such a cut and paste.

    My bottom line on this aspect: much of the (textually literate) world still treats text content as the only thing of value... everything else is easily lost along the way. We may not like it, but that's reality.

    I don't think saying one's software failed to copy things accurately therefore it's okay to misquote someone makes much sense. If you copy and paste a PDF file and the text comes are completely garbled (as can happen with such files), that doesn't mean you can present the garbled text as the original. Humans are the ones responsible for making sure quotations are accurate. If the tools they use aren't sufficient for the job, they can do it manually. It isn't difficult to accurately indicate what people presented. Why not do it?

    (Again, I'll note there were other examples discussed in this post, including text which was removed. Whatever point you may have about the example you choose to focus on, it says nothing about the other examples.)

  6. I suppose I should also point out that link is to a discussion about how people (or at least journalists) view changing spoken quotations, not written ones. There's a big difference between changing a person's words the first time they're put in print and changing words which have already been printed one way - the matter of record. Whatever one feels about altering a verbal quotation, doing so doesn't leave any record of contradiction. Changing written quotes does. That's a big difference.

    (I don't approve of either, but I recognize the practical differences involved.)

  7. I’ve just deleted Climate Audit from bookmarks. It’s become absolutely disgusting with the stunningly biased Russia stuff. Thinking of the years I’ve admired him and the site, I can’t say I’m not sad though.

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