Another Form of Censorship at RC

RC has recently used another form of censorship, clearly designed to limit/prevent discussion on ‘inconvenient’ topics. 

At 8:51 am on 1 June 2009, RC put up a post “On Overfitting” by ‘eric’, who we understand to be Eric Steig.  ‘eric’ used the post to respond in part to some critics that had emerged in response to the paper published in Nature in January 2009 –  “Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year” by Eric J. Steig, David P. Schneider, Scott D. Rutherford, Michael E. Mann, Josefino C. Comiso & Drew T. Shindell. 

A graphic from the paper showing warming across Antarctica was produced on the front cover, and accompanying press releases stating that “Much Of Antarctica Is Warming More Than Previously Thought”.  Predictably, the paper achieved widespread coverage in mainstream media (MSM) since it purported to support the meme that Anthropogenic Global Warming is proceeding apace, and  if we don’t change our ways, “we’ll all be rooned” as Hanrahan said.

Nature published this paper without insisting that the accompanying data/methods/code be archived, as required by Nature’s policies.  The paper rapidly attracted attention from numerous parties interested in looking at the detail underlying the paper, and in particular to understand the methods used.  This interest, in part, was directed at determining whether the claims being made could be independently verified.

Requests for data were not responded to positively.  Eric Steig then left for Antarctica where he was out of contact.  In the absence of disclosure of data/methods/code, various parties sought to understand what had occurred in the paper from first principles, using publicly available data sources.  This work was carried out by parties identifying themselves as JeffID, JeffC, RomanM, RyanO, and Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit. 

The efforts of these individuals were comprehensively discussed at several blogs – notably Climate Audit, Watts Up With That, and The Air Vent.  After literally months of work by keen, but clearly very competent amateurs, they were able to demonstrate that they had replicated the methods used by Steig et al, but reached a very different conclusion, namely that the data does not support the claim that Much of Antarctica is Warming More Than Previously Thought.

Eric’s Real Climate post attracted vigorous commentary, some in particular from JeffID and RyanO, two of the workers who had undertaken the forensics on the paper, without the co-operation of the authors. 

At 8:35 pm on 1 June 09, in a response to Comment 42 by Ryan O, Eric closed the thread to comments.

The post was open for comment for just under 12 hours.  Any further comments put up were rejected on the basis that the thread was closed.

No doubt RC exercised its normal moderation/censorship on posts that were allowed to be posted, so it is interesting indeed what led them to close the thread so quickly.  Perhaps they don’t actually want to discuss the work?


11 Responses to “Another Form of Censorship at RC”

  1. rcrejects Says:

    herbert stencil reports at The Air Vent – RC Replies – Dr Steig Claims Overfitting thread, Post 60 that he tried to post at RC, but got the comments closed message.

    herbert stencil said: June 1, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    I just tried to post the following comment over at RC, only to find that the comments have been closed after only 42 threads. Strange.

    Anyhow, here is my comment.

    “If I may be so bold as to weigh into this fascinating discussion. What hasn’t been mentioned yet are two issues related to the Steig et al paper that probably led to the detailed investigations by Ryan O, JeffID, JeffC, Steve McIntyre and others.

    First, the press releases that accompanied the Steig et al paper were pretty specific. “Much Of Antarctica Is Warming More Than Previously Thought” at for example, which clearly sought to present a particular viewpoint.

    Second, the authors of Steig et al clearly thought that it was unnecessary to provide the detailed backup information such as data used, the methods used to process it, and code.

    In effect, the combination of those two decisions led to the interest by those mentioned above. As JeffID and RyanO have explained, their interest, at least in part, was to understand exactly what had been done, and the reasons why the press release ‘conclusions’ should be given currency.

    Because they were attempting to re-create (replicate if you like) the Steig et al work without the benefit of fully disclosed data/processing methods/codes, they had to start from scratch, and that led them down some blind alleys.

    I respectfully suggest that there is a lesson here for those concerned about AGW. The decision to word the press release as it was, allied to the decision to not release detailed data/methods/code has led to this topic gaining much more widespread discussion across the blogosphere than would have happened had different decisions been made.”

  2. rcrejects Says:

    JeffID posted on his experience at RC on the Climate Audit ‘The Gracious Communicator’ Thread. Post 85

    JeffID June 2nd, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Look what I found — my first requests for data and code at RC.

    “I wonder if you know when the data and code for this will be released. If it has, where can I find it?
    It doesn’t matter to me if the antarctic is warming or not, but I would like to know the details of this study. I’ve read the paper and SI and it isn’t exactly chock full of detail.”

    Cut from moderation. I tried again.

    “If you wouldn’t mind encouraging your colleagues to publish the data and code used, the review process may gain you considerable support.

    I for one wouldn’t be surprised to find the Antarctic was warming, but I need to see the calculations used in order to trust the result. If it looks reasonable, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s exactly what my blog will say.”

    Cut again. Undeterred I tried again.


    After having so many reasonable comments cut I need to add something. You may find working with me instead of actively suppressing my questions to be less troublesome, my blog is more popular every day.

    All I really want to do is understand. Mann08 deserved every criticism I leveled at it (and more), you couldn’t force me to put my name on it. It’s rather unfortunate that it was the first climate paper from which I looked at the data. I understand now that despite the high profile of Mann, most papers are better quality but how am I supposed to react to a high profile climate paper like that?

    This is a different paper and a different problem. As I have attempted to say, it has every potential for being accurate. Let it out in the light and let’s see.

    I realize this will also be cut, but consider my words I do honor them.”

    Eventually part of a comment was let through in edited form on RC – requesting code and DATA.

    “[Response: What is there about the sentence, “The code, all of it, exactly as we used it, is right here,” that you don’t understand? Or are you asking for a step-by-step guide to Matlab? If so, you’re certainly welcome to enroll in one of my classes at the University of Washington.–eric]”

    I like the new tone better than the old.

  3. rcrejects Says:

    An interesting exchange over at WUWT, ‘Steig et al Falsified’ thread.

    simon abingdon (13:29:52) :

    Anthony, RealClimate have logged over 1000 comments on “The Tragedy of Climate Commons”. Are you sure you’re choosing your topics to have maximum appeal?

    WUWT replied (in a somewhat mischievous tone)

    It’s OK, Simon. Anthony posts many more new articles every week than RC, so the folks posting there have only a relatively limited number of articles to comment on. The total gets run up as a result. Anthony could do the same thing, but he prefers to post a wide range of interesting topics. It’s more work, but it makes for a more interesting site.

    And RealClimate’s small crowd of True Believers inhabit their own little echo chamber; their own self-reinforcing world, where contrary views are not tolerated, but are routinely censored. And notice how many of the posts are made by the same person, over and over again.

    Also, I notice that WUWT just blew through 14 million hits today. RC must be green with envy. Sucks to be them.

    This does raise an interesting issue. It would seem that a consequence of the moderation/censorship policy at RC is that many potential posters are deterred from participating. This leads to a situation where as WUWT say, the loyal choristers put up most of the posts, and they lay into any interlopers that may pass by. The tone is such as to preserve an agreed paradigm (as Thomas Kuhn would say) and to deter any countervailing views, or at least limit those views to make it appear that the paradigm is not challenged.

  4. rcrejects Says:

    Another review of RC from a satisfied customer: From WUWT ‘Gavin Schmidt’s New Climate Picture Book’ thread, 4 June.

    Barry Foster (11:04:30) :

    I recently tried to contribute on realclimate’s web site. I composed a detailed explanation that ‘Warming-worriers’ had only themselves to blame for leading the public perception that by now we would (should) be in a much warmer world than we actually are. As their software wouldn’t let my piece pass, Mr Schmidt kindly sent me an email saying that he had read it through and, although he disagreed with it, could see no reason why the software rejected it. So he pasted it onto the site personally.

    Naturally, my piece was derided by a mouth-foaming mob, so I countered their arguments. However, this time my reference to ‘warming-worriers’ was edited out and I was told in no uncertain terms to “cut out the abuse”. I sent Mr Schmidt an email explaining that he had originally personally passed the comment as okay as he had read it! But more than that, he constantly allows “Deniers” with all its connotations as acceptable. I drew the conclusion that realclimate is an odd place, with odd perceptions, and run by an odd person.

  5. rcrejects Says:

    And another: WUWT ‘Gavin Schmidt’s New Climate Picture Book’ thread. 4 June.

    C.O.Toogood (14:27:19) :

    Re Barry Foster

    But more than that, he constantly allows “Deniers” with all its connotations as acceptable.

    I drew the conclusion that realclimate is an odd place, with odd perceptions, and run by an odd person.
    RealClimate censors posts it will accept only a certain amount of contrary opinions and generally when Dr Schmidt and the others can pitch in. It also seems to be engaged in mutual masturbation?

    It advertises itself as part of The Guardian Environment network yet at least the Guardian refrains from crass censorship.

    The front cover of Dr Schmidt’s book is only relevant in so far as these so called scientists will do anything to gain publicity for ideas that are so bereft of value that if their ideas were not affecting our lives they would be ignored.

  6. rcrejects Says:

    Some discussion at RC about the Eric Steig ‘On Overfitting’ thread. From the ‘Groundhog Day 2’ thread.

    Carrick Says: 8 June 2009 at 10:07 AM

    While as a scientist I remain firmly convinced that the Earth is warming, that human activity is playing a major role in it, and that immediate steps need to be made to ameliorate the harmful effects of this human activity, if there were any changes to RealClimate it would be in your comment policy.

    Thinking back to Eric Steig’s post from last week and his handling of comments on that thread, I have myself been enmeshed in extremely heated scientific controversies, and I can tell you that not all or even most scientific debates get settled inside the journal articles. I still have a very thick stack of correspondence with other scientists, and many of these were very publicly circulated (including one that made it into a letter to the Los Angeles Times!).

    While I certainly don’t think that long-winded back-and-forths with trolls is productive, neither is controlling the debate to the extent where you edit the content of comments from people asking critical (but constructive) questions while allowing through the ad nauseam stream of echolalia from non-critical “true believers”.

    You are of course free to run your blog as you choose, and if all you want to be is a cheer leader for people who will champion a particular political cause, that is fine. But if the purpose is to advance the science, you might consider some changes to the comment moderation policy more in line with one that advances the science, and not just a particular economic and social policy.

    [Response: Our comment moderation has nothing to do with any economic or social policy (indeed, look at the tragedy of the commons post which was the most policy-related one in a while). Instead, it is enabled to improve the signal to noise ratio, and cutting out repetitive continuous cut-and-pasted talking points from people with whom there is no point in having rational discussion. By and large that works. – gavin]

  7. rcrejects Says:

    An interesting angle on RC censorship in a post at CA (if I am reading it correctly) – Banned at Sudbury Airport thread.

    172 Stacey: June 9th, 2009 at 6:13 am

    Our Gav is famous, he is on two web sites at the same time. On one I don’t have a problem making domestic arrangements and also trying to keep in control his ego. On the other site well I just can’t make myself heard unless I tell him he’s a lovely boy and very clever.

    I am not very good at statistics so I wondered whether the clever people on this site could help :-

    Site One: RC Number of posts: 144 Total: Those Uncritical 142 Those Critical 2
    Site Two: Guardian Environment Number of posts:85 Total : Those Uncritical 40 Those Critical 45

    Can someone use some statistical analysis to advise on the balance of probability which site may be censoring.

  8. rcrejects Says:

    RC (Gavin and Mike) throw some more light on their censorship policy in this exchange. RC Groundhog Day 2 thread, Post 144.

    Steve Fitzpatrick Says: 9 June 2009 at 6:29 AM

    Hello Gavin,

    I do not know if you will “snip” this comment, (it is after all your blog) but I do hope you will read it. I understand your frustration with non-sense comments that come from people (”denialists”) with little or no technical background. Those who have no idea of the underlying physical concepts usually make comments which contribute little or nothing to a constructive dialog. I hope you agree that similar non-sense comments are also made by people with little or no technical experience, but who completely believe what the IPCC predicts. Were climate science not so politically relevant, none of these folks would even be involved.

    That being said, there are a lot of technically trained people who work outside of climatology that I believe do have enough knowledge of the underlying physical concepts to rationally evaluate the quality of published climate research. It appears to me that your moderation policy tends to sometimes silence those who have legitimate doubts.

    [Response: No. What we dissalow is the incessant cut-and-paste drive-buys of trolls, and those whose doubts are anything but ‘legitimate’ and whose analyses are anything but ‘rational’. -mike]

    I was encouraged by Dr. Eric Steig’s blog exchange with several people who had analyzed the methods used his Nature paper on temperature trends in Antarctica. By the time Dr. Steig ended the exchange, the tone of the discussion was much more reasonable and constructive than at the beginning, and it appeared that even Dr. Steig agreed that there were some legitimate concerns raised, although he did not agree these concerns brought into question the results shown in the Nature paper.

    [Response: Please don’t misrepresent Eric. You need to read what he wrote more carefully. He did not indicate that there were any “legitimate concerns raised”. Rather, he explained in some detail how the analyzes described on a certain fringe website were rather seriously flawed, e.g. violating the assumption of independence of the statistical cross-validation by adjusting the model to fit the validation data–a major no no, at least to anyone who understands cross-validation. Eric did note that an objective analysis of quality issues with the satellite data would be worthwhile–but that is hardly what was provided in the attempts to attack Steig et al. We closed off the discussion after the post had achieved its end, i.e. when the attackers conceded that indeed they were unable to in any conceivable way ‘falsify’ the Steig et al ‘08 results -mike]

    I hope that in the future you would encourage similar exchanges.
    I have several times before considered making comments on your blog, but have not taken the time to do so, since I have seen the text of several comments “snipped” from you blog that appear to me neither offensive nor nonsensical. Can you offer any guidelines on what types of comments are allowed and what are not?

    [Response: Think of it like a dinner party. Discussion is good, disagreement is ok, but throwing food and insulting the hosts or other guests is not appreciated. – gavin]

  9. rcrejects Says:

    A reader posts the following comment at RC regarding his views of their Monitoring Policy. No comment from RC. From RC Groundhog Day 2 post 155.

    Geoff Wexler Says: 9 June 2009 at 10:55 AM

    Monitoring Policy.

    Some examples. Realclimate is sometimes criticised by deniers for having a monitoring policy. Dissidents are allowed but only within limits. I think we have a lot to be grateful for the use of this policy; not only does it protect the readers from mass invasions by anti-scientific propagandists * but also the little responses in green from the experts can be particularly useful and add a lot to the lead articles. That monitoring (and replying) must take up quite a bit of time.

    This is where some of the alternatives to Realclimate do not do quite so well. John Cook’s site (Skeptical Science) seems an excellent and rapid source to me. It provides simplified arguments and links to the published works. The author must have worked quite hard to produce it. But a rather lax monitoring policy detracts from the quality of the threads which follow the lead articles. It becomes a gamble.

    Tamino and Stoat use a similar approach to Realclimate.
    * The thread following Gavin’s article (not for RC) about his book provided an example of this but I have seen even worse.

  10. rcrejects Says:

    Antonio San offered a comment on the tone of RC authors at The Air Vent ‘Tired and Wrong Again Thread’. Post 18.

    Antonio San said: June 9, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    OT: What can justify the tone of the RC authors day after day, post after posts, issues after issues?

    After all, these are researchers who virtually have every tool and credits at their disposal. They publish books, papers virtually unopposed. Every of their words are magnified by a sympathetic media. Internationally, they are not isolated but can find solace in every country where even their blog is considered a “scientific file” link like at the IPSL in France the domain of the ubicuistre Jouzel. They even received the highest political award through the Nobel IPCC. The UN bureaucracy, the gold standard if there has to be one in this domain, eats in their hand the new results of their research. Rich, influent, powerful peoples are helping them setting up blogs, managing PR campaigns. Their careers have taken off like few scientists could expect in their lifetime. They are today’s scientific establishment and have the means to comfort their position of power through political support no smaller than during the atom bomb development. Every conference, and there are many, offers tribunes to their unprecedented results.

    Yet, their tone is quite unforgiving and exhibits an acute arrogance, they operate as a predatory pack and they hardly exhibit the generous and higher warm qualities of those wonderful gifted human beings whose superior knowledge is never compromised by an inferior moral compass.

    They simply, ruthlessly cannot be wrong.

    Why is it so? Immoderate hubris or deep seeded fear that Nature will retake with time what some men gave them at once? Is this desire to crush any dissent the supreme way to look for and expect to be absolved of any responsibility, “we ALL thought we were right, no single exception” when their models will drift from the reality, when humanity will finally wonder what was this all about and those Robespierres of the Climate will meet their scientific fate? Time will tell and so far time is their enemy: past time, history and its record -that they needed to alter- and future time, when natural variability will start to explain the dichotomy between predictions and reality…

  11. rcrejects Says:

    Antonio San’s comment at The Air Vent led to a following series of posts further discussing RC. The Air Vent ‘Tired and Wrong Again’ thread, posts 19 to 25.

    19. Stan said:June 9, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Charles Krauthammer once wrote that the difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans think Democrats are wrong and Democrats think Republicans are evil. Any rational observer of politics over the last 4 decades will recognize the truth of that statement. AGW is a lot more about politics than it is about science. Keep that in mind when wondering about the “tone” over at RealClimate.

    Michael Mann has published some truly mind-boggling rants which give a good insight into the way he thinks. He has ascribed political motivations to those who critiize his work. The attitudes over at RC are those of people who view themselves as leaders in a moral crusade against evil.

    20. timetochooseagain said: June 9, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    “He has ascribed political motivations to those who critiize his work.”

    This is the phenomenon of “projection”-a clearly politically motivated person or group is accusing the opposition of political motivation. The left projects their own evils onto the right all the time. They even project projection. It’s funny if you are smart enough to see what they are doing…

    21. Andy said: June 9, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Don’t worry Jeff, the tone of your blog stands in contrast to RC and of course your resident itch TCO who at least appears to have learnt how to use a spellchecker. Or for him “Leearnt to us a spollchecker.”

    22. omnologos said: June 9, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Just remember…in every scientific field but one, scientists are constantly seeking debate (instead of cutting it off), are not scared of debating non-scientists holding different views, and win those debates hands down (think Velikovsky, think UFOs, think evolution).

    Why would things be different in that one scientific field, is anybody’s guess. Including the possibility that it’s not that “scientific” after all.

    23. Jeff Id said: June 9, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    #22, That’s right. If their position was stronger they would discuss it openly. Nearly all of my polite on topic posts have been cut there in favor of the public circular celebrations of their following. The majority of the comments I left were quite innocuous, requests for data and such.

    24. Scott Robertson said: June 9, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Obviously requests for data are innocuous in themselves but do you seriously think the off-science comments and topics are covered any better here than any other blog dedicated to one thing or another? You may come up with a couple examples of stifled debate but do you seriously think that impugns the entire field? And you wonder why we can’t have an intelligent debate? It seems that you are not interested in one either.

    And spare me the Krauthammer quote. Yeah republicans are the reasonable ones. There are plenty of loons on both sides and he is one of them. The greenies have their stake in this as well as the right and neither can see the forest through the trees.

    I’m done. I’ll just go back to RC where I belong. Can’t say I didn’t try.

    25. Antonio San said: June 9, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    “Beam Scotty up…” Jean Luc Picard/Gavin… LOL

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