Free Speech

It hasn’t been long since I changed my comment policy, and already I’m getting complaints of censorship. I’m obviously not too concerned about the validity of these sources, but I thought I should address the issue regardless.

There are two reasons I will moderate a comment:

1) If you make a scientific claim which isn’t common knowledge (ie, you don’t have to cite “humans are causing climate change” or “the stratosphere is cooling while the troposphere is warming”), and don’t provide a citation from a legitimate peer-reviewed source to back up your statement, I will replace your comment with [citations needed].

For example, I would moderate comments such as these (all of which I just made up – nobody actually posted these):

Humans cannot be causing global warming. Volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans, and there have always been volcanoes and they have never changed the climate. The warming is obviously caused by the sun.

Climate sensitivity is very low – about 0.5 C. Read this post by Joanne Nova.

As Sallie Baliunas found, the medieval warm period was much warmer than today. This was very good for the Vikings and their grapes so we shouldn’t be worried about global warming.

The regular readers and commenters of ClimateSight will spend so much time debunking these common claims, which have been repeated endless times, that we won’t be able to move forward in our discussion. For example, compare the level of useful discussion on this post to this post. Whether or not you’re trying to, if you’re posting statements which claim to invalidate anthropogenic global climate change, with no scientific backing, you’re wasting our time. If you’re deliberatly wasting our time, of course we’re not going to include you in the discussion. If you’re genuinely interested and have heard these statements and want to know more, refer to Coby Beck’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic. It’s by far the most comprehensive list of common misconceptions on the web. We’d just be repeating similar arguments anyway….

If you’re getting into more complicated arguments with lots of math, you still have to cite your basic conclusions. Keep in mind that I am just a lowly high school student who doesn’t know any calculus. I can’t possibly assess people’s arguments on their content – so I trust the “peer-reviewed” credential more than any amount of logic.

2) If you post something which is inflammatory, aggressive, insulting, politically extreme, a personal attack on a respected scientist, a random grumble about Al Gore, etc, your comment will be replaced with [inflammatory]. Here are some examples (again, made up):

Al Gore is EVIL and he just wants to tax us all!!!!!!!!!!!! What about the ice ages where it warmed without anyone driving hummers!!!!!!!! That’s his INCONVENIENT TRUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Any form of liberal government will never, ever, work, and regulations should never be allowed, no matter what the threat is. All regulations should be suspected as government influence on our lives and incomes.

You are an alarmist and a quasi-religious zealot. You’re just believing what Hansen says because it fits with your preconceived conclusion. Did you know that Hansen adjusts all the temperature data before he graphs it? There’s good reason to suspect that GISS is committing fraud.

When I encounter comments like these, it’s pretty obvious that you’re not interested in having a useful discussion, and just want to yell at people. You’re not helping the quality of the discussion one bit.

There’s a difference between deleting comments like these – which waste everyone’s time and patience – and participating in what we call “censorship”. Censorship is the practice of suppressing ideas and free speech by eliminating someone’s form of communication to the world. I am in no way practicing or endorsing this. You are more than welcome to start your own blog and yell about Al Gore all you want, or to go and comment about CO2 lagging temperature on any other blog you find. A better example of censorship would be how Watts removed Peter Sinclair’s video from Youtube – how else was Sinclair supposed to get his videos out to the world?

There are lots of places to say what you want elsewhere. But here I am the editor, and I am not going to publish comments which will sabotage our discussion. I am going to cater to the requests of those who respect this blog and wish to further the discussion, not those who wish to delay it.

Inflammatory statements are quite obviously inappropriate in a useful discussion. Additionally, keep in mind that science is not built around the pillars of completely free and unrestrained speech, as Brian pointed out. If it was, Nature and Science would have to publish absolutely every submission they received, whether or not it was correct or legitimate. In the real world, however, if a study were to make unusual claims without appropriate evidence or citation, it would go right out the window.

You can say whatever you want. But if it’s inflammatory or lacks citations, and you try to publish it here, don’t complain if it gets deleted.

(Making up all those moderation-worthy comments was kind of fun, though!)

Update: RealClimate has a great quote which sums up my feelings on this issue:

“Comments that accuse as of bad faith, fraud and dishonesty are not ways to move forward any conversation – how can you have a dialog with people who don’t believe a word you say? We choose to try and create a space for genuine conversation, which means weeding out the trolls and the noise. This is an imperfect process, but the alternative is a free-for-all that quickly deteriorates into a food fight. There are plenty of places to indulge in that kind of crap. There are only a few places where it’s not and we are not embarrassed to try to make this site one of them.”


Background information is important.

This is what I was thinking while I was reading “The Twenty Three (and Growing) Smoking Guns of Global Warming” on the Heartland Institute website, while researching for quotes to use in my post A Well-Documented Strategy. The introduction reads,

“Before you read this essay, I ask you to forget everything you have learned about global warming…..Your job is to review the study with unbiased eyes, and grade the project based upon how sound the science is in supporting the conclusion.”

Robert Wagner, the author, seems to equate background information and expertise with bias, as “[climatologists’] funding depends on carbon being the cause of global warming.” He does not trust climatologists, or any sort of expert in this issue, as their salary seemingly depends on AGW.

If you read the article while “forgetting everything you have learned about global warming”, it has an internal logical flow. If you rely upon your background information and expertise – even if you’re not a scientist, just a nerdy volunteer blogger like me – their conclusions fall apart.

This is most obvious when the article pulls out the old “CO2 lags Temperature” crock. It makes perfect sense – how can carbon change temperature if it’s actually the other way around? – until you read a little further into other sources.

Then they go on about Christy’s satellite data. Which seems to support their conclusion, until you find out that it’s been discredited multiple times and Christy has now retracted his data.

They have a throwback to the early days of climatology when everyone believed that the bands of radiation CO2 absorbed overlapped so much with water vapour that extra CO2 wouldn’t make a difference. They phrase this in a way that makes it seem like this is the current theory.

They take the correction that GISS made, where 1934, not 1998, was found to be the warmest year in the US, and conveniently remove “in the US”, implying that 1934 was the warmest year globally.

All of this works… long as you don’t read anywhere else. The author says to you, “Forget everything you know, and only accept what I tell you, as well as the blog posts and newspaper articles that I cite.” Knowledge from anywhere else is seen as “biased” because climatologists are just out for grant money to increase their personal wealth. Yes, the only credible source out there is the Heartland Institute. So of course their articles have an internal logical flow… long as you obey their instructions to only believe their articles.

What a creepy form of censorship. What an underhanded way to manipulate the reader. How is the Heartland Institute allowed to exist without some sort of disclaimer? How does anyone take them seriously?

Sinclair vs Watts: An Update

(Read the original story on this issue if you haven’t already.)

The DeSmogBlog Youtube channel has uploaded the original video. I’m not sure if Peter Sinclair is aware of this, but somehow I think he won’t mind much. Mr Watts, however, will probably throw another fit.

I will consider the issue a true victory for Sinclair when he re-uploads the video on his account. But for now, at least people will be able to watch the video behind all this controversy.

Sinclair vs Watts

Many of you probably are familiar with Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week channel, which dispels popular climate myths.

Many of you are probably also familiar with Anthony Watts and his blog Watt’s Up With That.

Several weeks ago, Sinclair created a video called “What’s Up With Watts?” in which he debunked the idea that the urban heat island effect is skewing the temperature records – the very premise of Watt’s Surface Stations project. He discussed how the temperature readings in urban centers are calibrated with nearby rural stations so that any heat bias is removed. Most impressive was a graph of the temperature readings from stations Watts deemed satisfactory; they showed the same upward trend as all of the stations together. NASA’s obviously doing a pretty good job of correcting that GISS data.

However, just a few days ago, Watts complained to YouTube and got the video removed on basis of a “copyright claim”. It is my knowledge (although I might be wrong) that YouTube will remove any video as soon as anyone complains about copyright.

The  only mention on Watt’s blog of the incident was a comment from a reader:

“Sorry to post off topic (although the comments are all backslapping anyway) but is there a reason you (Anthony) filed a DMCA complaint against Greenman3610’s youtube video “Watts up with Watts”?

From Youtube:
“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Anthony Watts”

Surely his video falls under fair use. Relying on the nanny state to attack critics or am I missing something?

REPLY: I don’t care to discuss my reasons here as they are private and unrelated to this discussion. Google agreed that complaint was valid and removed the video. – Anthony”

But as Kevin Grandia from DeSmogBlog writes,

“Quite frankly I don’t know what part of the video Watts would have a problem with. There’s nothing I saw in the video that appears to break any copyright as it relates to Watts.

Now maybe he took issue with the short (credited) clip at the beginning from Will Ferrell’s Anchorman movie…. but I think this is more about a video that thoroughly shreds Watts and his argument that the world is wrong about climate change and he is right.”

If the copyright claim was indeed about the Anchorman clip (most likely to conceal other motives, however – you could spend your whole life filing complaints about YouTube videos that had clips from movies) it will be all too easy for Sinclair to edit that out of the video and repost it.

Otherwise, Watts hasn’t got a leg to stand on. It really exposes a person’s motives when they don’t even write a logical rebuttal when they take issue to their arguments being challenged – they simply censor those challenges instead.