2011-11-29 12:42:55Email complain from Mikel
John Cook


Got this email complaint from Mikel:

I am appalled at the Moderator's response to my question.

I took care not to post a comment about the legal issues and I was careful not to have my question interpreted as criticism of your site. Twelve months ago you posted an article on FOI requests and Climategate 1.0, and I thought there might be a chance that you and other readers might be aware of a site that looked specifically at the legal issues arising out of the unauthorised release of these emails. 

I also took care not to respond to Sphaerica but to defer to the Moderator. All that got me was an insulting reply from the Moderator.

You base the content of your site on referenced science. I expect the same standard of thorough researching to apply to legal issues as well. Even a cursory reading of the Muir Russell report would demonstrate that there are a lot more legal issues than the initial unauthorised release. If you read the Information Commissioner's guidance to Universities on research information, you would realise that there are not simple answers to what is private, and when and where information is 'held' in respect of rights to access.

If you were not able to answer my question, a simple response of: 'We at Skepticalscience cannot help you but you may get a reply from other commenters. Since we do not have the expertise to discuss the legal issues, it would be preferable not to post comments on those issues.'

Finally, please do not assume that a questioner has not done any research beforehand.

Now I agree with what Daniel said in the moderator comment. But the issue here is what's appropriate use of the moderator boxes. Hadn't we hashed out the issue earlier and decided to keep it to strictly 'official website business' (eg - enforcing the rules, fixing links) with the exception of the author of the original blog post responding directly to questions directed to the author? Any other comments are best posted as normal comments rather than green moderator boxes. Or am I remembering incorrectly and this was still unresolved?

2011-11-29 13:26:26
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey


I guess I was confused by two things in Mikel's 2nd comment on the thread:

Wow! I tried asking a polite question. Definitely did not expect such a response.

I can answer your question, but I'll take the Moderator's advice before getting into a whole range of legal issues here.

The first one was his use of Wow!  Perhaps he was reacting to his interpretation of Sphaerica's response.

The second was but I'll take the Moderator's advice; given that no one had given Mikel moderation prior to this (I first checked the deleted comments bin) it seemed to me to be a form of trolling.  Given that moderating trolling is an understood function (at least I thought it to be) I then proceeded accordingly.

I would note that Mikel had ample time to discuss all of this on his first appearance at SkS a year ago on the Climategate: Impeding Information Requests? thread (on which Mikel placed 7 comments).  Also note that this is the thread in which the exoneration of Jones/CRU by the Muir Russell Commission was discussed.  To then bring up "legal issues raised by the contents of the emails" a full year later (with no details given other than his initial cryptically insinuative comment) was a bit of a red herring for me, also.

This incident underscores the need for revising/updating the Comments Policy, a task ably initiated by Tom Curtis.

And finally (perhaps I am being especially obtuse tonight), but I fail to see the "insulting" part of the response given.

2011-12-02 09:25:39


Before posting my response to Mikel I did a search of his comment history, to see if I was correct in my inference about his comment.  I didn't post my response off of my gut reaction without first doing so.

Looking at his past comments, over a year ago, they all related to this same issue.  There are no comments at any time on anything else.  It's unclear exactly where he stands on the subject, actually, because his tone is generally reasoned and pragmatic, except for this quote:

I daresay there will be further discussion when the Information Commissioner publishes their Decision Notices relating to appeals.

But clearly, without reason, and simply because he likes the idea of someone being legally targeted for FOI intransigence, he was trying to go there again.  When no one took the bait, he was instantly gone and has not posted since.

I have no doubt that he was trolling, and have no regrets for my response.

2011-12-02 10:16:13My two cents...
John Hartz
John Hartz


I believe that DB's moderation of Mikel was well done. In fact, I commend DB for his patience. I would have pulled the plug on Mikel after his second post. We should not be spending an inordinate amount of time and energy moderating and responding to commentors like Mikel who are obsessed with tangential issues.