Category Archives: Book Discussion

I Think I Found The Source of a Fabricated Quote

Some time back I commented on how Mark Steyn included a seemingly fabricated quote in his book he wrote about Michael Mann:

Phil Jones to Michael Mann on February 3rd, 2005:

The two MMs [McKitrick and McIntyre] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the U.K., I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone.6

And, indeed, the CRU subsequently announced that they had "inadvertently deleted" the requested data.

The e-mail Steyn quoted was genuine, but the claim "the CRU subsequently announced that they had 'inadvertently deleted' the requested data" baffled me. I was following the events being discussed at the time, and I had seen the CRU's responses on the issue. The phrase "inadvertently deleted" was never uttered by the CRU.

Given this mystery, I spent some time trying to track down the origin of the quotation. In doing so, I found Steyn had self-plagiarized an article he wrote for his website, but that article didn't include a source for the quotation either. I did find a Google Groups discussion which had the same claim, but it didn't offer a source either. I eventually gave up.

But recently, I started taking stock of some things I've done over the years, wondering if they were a waste of time. One of those things was the work I did examining Steyn's book, finding over a hundred minor misquotations, dozens of quotations whose context was changed to significantly distort their meaning, multiple quotations which were misattributed and numerous untrue factual claims. I put quite a bit of time into it, and I only publicly "published" a fraction of that work.

Was that a waste of time? I don't know. Nobody seems to care Steyn's book is a horrendous piece of trash, a lazy, dishonest smear campaign of the sort we expect from politicians. Maybe I'm wrong though. Maybe I could find some interest if I collected the notes I took and published them in the right way. That's something I was pondering when I decided to revisit that quotation I could never find a source for. And it seems today, I've found the answer.

I won't bore you with all the details of how I found this. The way things spread across the internet, especially when people don't provide links to things they reference/quote, is murky at best. But after tracking things back a bit, I found this article which says:

Email 1107454306 is particularly interesting. In it, Dr Jones writes:

The two MMs [McKittrick and McIntyre] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone.

What makes this interesting is that the CRU, in later years, announced that they had "inadvertently deleted" their raw data when they responded to an FOIA request from ... McIntyre.

What makes this interesting is the link provided in this article goes to a blog post which does not contain the phrase "inadvertently deleted." It appears what happened is this article, written by one Charlie Martin, used the phrase "inadvertently deleted" with scare quotes to indicate he was being facetious, that he felt the deletion was not truly inadvertent. People saw this, failed to understand his meaning and thought this was a real quotation. The result is for years people have been saying it was announced data had been "inadvertently deleted," as though that were an actual quotation.

I think that's fascinating. We have a fake quotation which has been around for years and years, all because a person used scare quotes to indicate facetiousness and people didn't notice. People have been using the phrase "inadvertently deleted" in quotation marks for years in reference to this issue, while changing everything else about the commentary they post, and... there's no reason for it.
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Building Bridges

I have long believed people, no matter how great their disagreements, should be able to understand one another. One of my favorite fictional relationships is the one between Professor Xavier and Magneto of the X-Men franchise, where the two men (quite literally) violently disagreed with one another yet held each other in great esteem.

In high school, one day a teacher stopped me in the halls and was going to lecture me because he thought he had heard me curse. A classmate of mine was nearby and he immediately stopped and said, "I don't like Brandon at all, but he never curses." That moment has always stuck with me because this classmate didn't like me, yet he was willing to speak up in my defense because he understood me.

The reason I bring this up is I published a new (short) eBook just a day or so ago. The point of it is to show how "Skeptics" in the global warming movement don't exhibit actual skepticism. Amongst other things, I thought this eBook might help some people find common ground with one another. Today, I'd like to discuss a reason that might now work.
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A New eBook for the New Year

As I mentioned yesterday, this site has reached another year in its short life. I think that's a fitting time to announce my new eBook which has just been published: The Climate Wars: A Disgrace to Skepticism.

I want to point out right from the start a lot of people I know won't like this book. Some might dislike it because they dislike my writing. That's fair. I can't say I'm amazing when it comes to prose. What I can say is the larger reason people will dislike it is the point of the eBook:

This book does not attempt to list everything anyone in the Skeptic movement has gotten or done wrong. There are an untold number of errors and misdeeds one could rant about in an attempt to score rhetorical points. That is not the point. The point is the polarization of the global warming debate means none of these problems matter.
There are many people in the global warming debate who do honest and good work. They do not matter. As long as people remain silent and allow bad work and unethical behavior to dominate the public representation of their side of a debate, all anyone will have is the same sort of partisan bickering they could find in any political argument.
That goes for all sides. Whatever the topic, whatever your beliefs. If you want to be taken seriously or accomplish some task, quit thinking about how “they” are the problem. Focus on what is right and what is wrong.
And remember, sometimes you and the things you like might be the ones that are wrong.

It's a simple point. If you say it about Warmists, Skeptics will quickly agree, talking at length about how "noble cause corruption" is, well, corrupting climate science. The question is, will any Skeptics acknowledge the same thing is true for them?

Experience makes me think they won't. Maybe I'll be surprised. And even if not, maybe some people who aren't as polarized when it comes to global warming will find this eBook worth their time.

And as always, if you don't want to spend the $0.99 on this eBook, you're welcome to download a free PDF copy available here.

The War on Science, a Book for Those Who Abuse Science

I recently came across a book titled The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It:

By one Shawn Otto and was flabbergasted when I read the free sample for it. You see, I wasn't surprised when Otto began his text by misquoting Thomas Jefferson. I've come to accept I am one of the few people I know who actually cares at taking this quote:

I did not at first believe that 11. states of 13. would have consented to a plan consolidating them as much into one. a change in their dispositions, which had taken place since I left them, had rendered this consolidation necessary, that is to say, had called for a federal government which could walk upon it's own legs, without leaning for support on the state legislatures. a sense of this necessity, & a submission to it, is to me a new and consolatory proof that wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.

And changing it to:

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights. —Thomas Jefferson, January 8, 1789

That is unquestionably wrong. You don't get to change people's quotes by cutting out the first part of a sentence then changing a word in the middle of it to be capitalized to pretend it is the start of the sentence. Honest and accurate writing requires one mark such changes so the reader is made aware of them. People don't seem to care about that sort of thing though so I wasn't really surprised this is how Otto chose to start his writing.

I only became surprised when I read:

Thomas Jefferson’s trust in the well-informed voter lies at the heart of the modern democracy that has, over the course of two centuries, come to guide the world. Much like the “invisible hand” that guides Adam Smith’s economic marketplace, so too does the invisible hand of the people’s will guide the democratic process. Faith in this idea is so central to democracy that George Washington emphasized it in the nation’s first inaugural address. “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States,” he told a joint session of Congress gathered in Federal Hall, which stood kitty-corner to today’s New York Stock Exchange.

To say I was surprised would be putting it mildly. There is nothing in this quote by George Washington which suggests the "invisible hand" he referred to is a reference to any "trust in the well-informed voter lies at the heart of the modern democracy." The only connection between the two items is Otto's claim this is what Washington was talking about - a claim that is a complete fabrication.

Nothing in George Washington's inaugural speech suggests anything like what Otto claims. While Otto puts significant effort into demonizing religion in his book as being party of the war on science, the reality is Washington's speech was him giving credit to "that Almighty being" for the nation's success thus far. Here is the quotation Otto provided in context:

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow- citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.

There has been much debate about just what George Washington's religious views were, but this quote's reference to "the invisible hand" clearly references "that Almighty Being," not some "invisible hand of the people’s will." Shawn Otto has simply fabricated this idea to falsely claim George Washington agrees with his views. There isn't the slightest basis for Otto's portrayal, and there is nothing he could have possibly based it upon.

As troubling as this is, what's truly worrying is Otto's anti-religious biases go so far as to cause him to abuse even science in order to demonize religion.

Dubito, Ergo, Sum - Novel or Global Warming Screed?

I like to read a wide variety of books. The problem I have is hearing about them. The more you read in one genre, the more you learn about it and the more books you come to know in it. If you haven't read any books in a given genre, it's difficult to know where to start. The same is true for non-fiction books. If you've never read any book about a particular topic, it can be difficult to know which books to check out.

The result of this is one's reading list can be insular, with each book you purchase reinforcing your views or expectations. There are a variety of ways to try to get around this, but one I've become a big fan of is asking for recommendations. Sometimes I'll buy a book recommended to me, but I made a vow some years back that I would read any book anyone gave me. I've held to that, and I will happily accept and read any book (physical or digital) given to me.

Today though, I want to talk about a book I bought after having it recommended to me. It's title is Dubito, ergo sum:

It is not what I would call a good book, but it is a very interesting one. Continue reading

Read This Book

From time to time I discuss books on this site, and it seems I usually wind up explaining why I don't think people should buy those books. Today is different. Today, I want to encourage everybody to read a book, A Sinister Charade: The Global Warming Hoax, by Dan Coffman:

It's not a good book. It's a bad book. It's a really bad book. That's what makes it so great.
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A Second Grammatical Interlude

Readers may have noticed I haven't written any posts in the last week, and I haven't been updating my In Process Review of Mark Steyn's latest book, A Disgrace to the Profession. I haven't given up on things, but the more I read Steyn's book, the more I realized the current approach wasn't effective.

I like the idea of doing "live" reviews like this, but Steyn's book is so repetitive there's just not point. Even worse, there are so many problems with his book one could never hope to cover them in a single read through. So instead, I've decided I'll approach his book in a more systematic, research manner. It's not as fun, but it will let me work out just what's wrong with the book in a far more structured manner.

Now, I know a lot of people won't care. For whatever reasons, a lot of people will love Steyn's book no matter what. They will continue to love the idea of him providing 120 quotations from "experts" they can use as talking points, no matter what. It won't matter that some of the quotes weren't in reference to Michael Mann, his work or anything related to it. It won't matter that many of the quotes have their meanings distorted due to being heavily quoted mined. It won't even matter that by my current count, 71 of those 120 quotations qualify as misquotations.

Now, I'll be the first to admit a number of these misquotations are relatively minor. However, that's not the topic of today's post. Today I'm not going to discuss the severity or importance of misquotations. Today I'm just going to look at a bizarre grammatical issue that came up in Steyn's book and ask if it qualifies as a misquotation. Because honestly, it's so weird, I don't know.
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Crackpots and Lunatics

The world is insane. I came to that conclusion years ago, but it hasn't stopped me from being constantly surprised by the things I see. For instance, I've recently started reading a new book by Mark Steyn named A Disgrace to the Profession. It has 120 two page sections, each devoted to showing how a scientist expressed disagreement with Michael Mann or his work.

There are some other framing pages as well, but those 120 section are the meat of the book. Mann has filed a lawsuit against Steyn, and the idea is to portray those 120 scientists as supporting Steyn. I suspect that's not an accurate portrayal for a number of them, and I've discussed that in a recent thread where I've been writing my thoughts on the book as I read through it in a sort of "live review."

But even if these people would support Steyn, there's always the question of, "Why should we listen to what they have to say?" Steyn presents them as being 120 scientists with all sorts of impressive credentials, but does that mean we should just trust their opinions? Or do we just care about the number of them, regardless of what their opinions might be? Or is it maybe that we do care about their opinions, trusting that those opinions are right, because after all, Steyn would never quote people who are obviously crackpots and lunatics?

I hope it's not the last of those. If it is, we're all in for a world of disappointment.
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In Process Review of "A Disgrace to the Profession"

As you may know from a few recent posts, I had some problems arise due to PayPal decided to take money for a couple purchases out of my bank account instead of my PayPal account. They've all been cleared up thanks to PayPal's Twitter customer service team (which solved the problem quickly when the phone line people couldn't accomplish anything), and in a few days money transfers will go through and everything will be back to normal.

In the meantime, a reader kindly purchased a copy of Mark Steyn's new book, A Disgrace to the Profession, a response of sorts to a lawsuit Michael Mann filed against him. I had been wanting to read this book, but I couldn't buy it when it was released due to my online accounts having issues, and that's when the reader contacted me to offer to purchase it for me.

Anyway, I got it in the mail yesterday, and I started reading it. If you saw my last post, you know I was not happy with what I saw. Because of that, I've decided to do something I haven't done in half a year. I'm going to do a "live" book review. That is, as I read the book, I will write my thoughts and reactions in the comments below. That'll give me a place to post all my thoughts so I don't have to keep making new post after new post.
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Dean Koontz is a Terrible Writer, Part Two

My last post on this topic was a little unfair. While I'm not sure there is a writer talented enough to express how horrible much of what Dean Koontz writes is, the truth is there is a reason Koontz has sold millions and millons of books - he has a lot of talent. The problem is he often uses that talent to write the worst garbage he could possible write.
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