Busy week ahead

I should probably start by apologising. This may be a bit of a rant. I’ve also got quite a busy week ahead, so probably won’t post much in the immediate future (although I have said that before). I’m teaching at the moment, so have to finish some lecture notes, am trying to get a first draft of a chapter for a book finished, and am trying to correct a paper (although, not so much correct as rewrite bits so that the referee understands what we’re saying – it’s fairly clear from the report that they do not, but that may be our fault for not making it clear enough). I also want to take a few days off next week and would quite like to be relaxed when I do so. I’m not finding this whole blogging about climate change/global warming the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done.

I have to admit that I’m also feeling somewhat disillusioned and probably just need to have a bit of a break. It’s fairly clear now that there really are just two opposing sides to this debate. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who’s simply uncertain and would like to know more. It’s either people who largely agree (not about everything, but about the fundamentals at least), and those who largely disagree and won’t accept anything put forward by the other side. Discussions with the latter people are, sadly, largely pointless and seem to end up focusing on the definition of fairly common English words, or something else equally irrelevant (which – it seems – is what happens if you don’t actually have a credible scientific basis for your views.). I do find it remarkably frustrating. I seem to end up in discussions – on Twitter mainly – where I end up having are to capitulate so as to avoid saying something like “What? Are you a f**cking moron?” (by the way, if you happen to read this and think the latter might refer to a discussion I may have had with you, it probably does).

So, although most of the discussions on this blog have remained reasonably civil and there are some “pseudo-skeptics” who do engage here in a reasonably decent manner, I’m yet to have a discussion that I’d regard as actually constructive. Given that I actually have a job and a family, I really can’t carry on spending my evenings in endless, pointless discussions. I’ve, therefore, decided on a few rules that I intend to follow. If the discussion ends up focusing on the definition of a word, I’m no longer interested. If the other party mentions doctored Nazi images or climategate, I’m no longer interested. If it turns into a discussion about the philosophy of science, rather than the science itself, I’m no longer interested. If it’s clear the other person is simply asking questions in order to get me to give an answer that they can then mis-represent, I’m no longer interested. If the other person suggests that they simply don’t trust a particular dataset (without an valid scientific reason), I’m no longer interested. And yes, if the other person implies that climate scientists/IPCC are intentionally trying to mislead people, then – yes – I think they’re promoting a conspiracy theory and, again, I’m no longer interested.

So, basically, talk about the science and the scientific evidence. I’m happy to have a discussion with anyone who’s actually interested in the science and the scientific evidence. I don’t even care if we do not reach some kind of agreement. Just stick to the actual evidence. If you can’t do that then I have to assume that either you’re incapable of doing so or unwilling to actually try. Why would I possibly want to spend my free time in discussions those who are unable, or unwilling, to focus on the actual science?

So, there you go. Apologies if this seems a little unpleasant, but I’ve really just about had enough. I now really understand those who just can’t be bothered in engaging with those who are openly sceptical and I’m even starting to get a bit irritated myself with those who try to excuse the typical behaviour of those who are openly sceptical. I know, however, that this is a complicated situation and maybe I’m just not appreciating some of the subtleties. I just can’t spend any more of my time engaging with those who are not only unpleasant but don’t actually seem capable of actually discussing climate science.

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91 Responses to Busy week ahead

  1. Rachel says:

    Ha, ha, good for you. It sounds like you need a break from the twitter twerps and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good rant. Well, actually I can think of a few things but rants are still good.

  2. If you follow these ground rules, Wott, this may very well be my last comment.

    Present me to your clowns in the tweetiverse if you wish me to provide Love and Light to them.

    Due diligence,


  3. BBD says:

    I told you to avoid twitter, Wotts! It’s evil. Stick to blogging.


    Have a break from the horrors of the front, return lethally refreshed and moderate the mickey-takers without hesitation or remorse. Also spend more time watching stupid video clips on YouTube. You can have the galloping robot on account.

  4. Hmmm, yes, maybe I’ve overstated the case with respect to the philosophy of science 🙂

    I had contemplated copying your style when engaging in various discussions, but I suspect I don’t have the necessary skills to do so.

  5. Yes, evil may well be the right word to describe Twitter 🙂

    Having a break and watching video clips on YouTube may well be just what I need.

  6. KR says:

    There are many videos of kittens on the Internet – you might find them relaxing.

    More seriously, kudos and thumbs up for your attempts to have a reasoned discussion with the unreasonable. I would opine that your blog has followed much the same path as other discussions, whether on climate, on evolution, of genetically modified crops or vaccines – it soon becomes clear who is willing to reason about their opinions, and who is inflexibly locked into their (ideologically related?) beliefs.

    If you find you have to break off exchanges that have departed reason, you are certainly not alone.

  7. dbostrom says:

    The trouble is, if we stick to discussing evidence the whole matter becomes boring. Liberation of gas, occluded pathway for IR radiation, warming of system, equilibrium at higher temperature. End of story. Where’s the fun in that? Narrative tension is what we demand!

    Fortunately there’s lots to discuss, plenty of entertainment. What could be more exciting than arguing over the definition of “pollutant,” or seeing if the latest hapless neophyte will fall victim to the CO2 metabolic toxicity rhetorical trap?

    A little more seriously, “trying to keep the discussion civil” is a fascinating exercise in itself, a monumental challenge given the time-tested, fully cured and hardened personalities in play. It’s also actually quite useful to talk in a place where civility is a requirement; forced politeness actually does have an improving effect beyond the classroom.

  8. I think following the ground rules would be great for you, Wott.

    You only need to experience once what it is to go down the rabbit hole.

    I’d trade your competent candor for my idiosyncrasies any day.

    Stick to the science.
    Stick it to them.
    Leave the sticky talk to me.

  9. A rant certainly helps 🙂

  10. It does have it’s moments of enjoyment, but they’ve become a bit few and far between recently.

    I’m pleased people seem to think that keeping the discussion civil is a fascinating exercise. Just hope I haven’t blown it with this post 🙂

  11. Yup, I think I’ve just got to the point where repeating the same discussion (in style if not actual substance) with the same people is just no longer worth the effort.

  12. Rachel says:

    Perhaps you can give us a few lessons, Willard? “Stick to the science. Stick it to them. Leave the sticky talk to me” – all of this sounds very good but how? Can you be a bit more specific?

  13. dbostrom says:

    I was unproductively sarcastic and nasty w/regard to discussion of climate change until I ran across John Cook. Working within his parameters changed my approach; my initial tone was set poorly but it was easy to habituate on “more pleasant.”

    Now I’m still unproductive but quite a bit less nasty. There is of course no difference in the outcome of the actual matter at hand but I don’t have to suffer so many regrets for being cruel.

    Weaponized speech intended employed only for destructive purposes is satisfying to fire but what’s the ultimate objective? Mostly it’s better not to pick up a weapon, but it’s also irresistible from time to time. We’re only human.

  14. Next, you’ll ask for an engineer-level derivation, Rachel…

    Hmmm. Let me see. Perhaps what Andy Lacks does there:


    I like the idea of cutting the statistical crap.


    If Wott’s initial motivation was to correct scientific claims made at Willard Tony’s, sticking to this might alleviate his burden.

  15. Andy Lacis, damn tablet.

  16. Rachel says:

    Thanks, that does seem to be a nice and clear explanation by Lacis. What I find happens though, is that the conversation gets shifted very gradually and it’s hard to stick to the topic. What begins as a discussion about some aspect of physics becomes an accusation that you want to keep the poor in poverty by denying them access to fossil fuels, or that climate scientists are spinning lies because they’re after grant funding, or – as often happens to Wotts – arguments over the definition of words. If you just ignore these comments in an attempt to stick to the topic, they assume you’ve conceded the point.

  17. verytallguy says:

    Well, I used to be a (very) regular commenter at the Graun but stopped for similar reasons to yours here.

    I realised that one of my main motivations was learning rather than arguing; researching “sceptic” arguments is very rewarding. You learn all sorts, from the history of the North West Passage right through to pressure broadening of absorption lines. After a while, though, I stopped learning anything new, and accepted that all sceptics sufficiently motivated to go on blogs were entirely impervious to facts. Also that blogs, unless heavily and personally moderated, are useless for debate. I stopped at that point.

    You started with an apology,. I’ll end with one.

    Prediction: if your motivation for the blog is to convince sceptics of anything, you will fail. Sorry.

  18. fragmeister says:

    If it helps, I was mildly agnostic on the subject of climate change a year or so ago. Then I read David Rose in the Mail on Sunday and it set my mind going. The law of unintended consequences set in and instead of swallowing what he was writing about a pause in global warming, I decided to check it out. So I did what real skeptics do: I searched for the real information so I could evaluate his article for myself. I thought it strange that what I read in the scientific press seemed to be at such odds with what he was saying.

    As a result, I made up my mind and joined the consensus. I don’t think I truly believed that climate change wasn’t happening, it just sort of passed me by. It was reading sites like yours, Sou’s, SkepticalScience and others of that ilk that persuaded me that climate change was an important issue. Mind you, I’ve been lurking around and occasionally commenting on properly skeptical sites (such as badscience.net/forum) for a few years so my mind set is not like the fake skeptics on WUWT and other places.

    Still, there are probably many people like me around – not much bothered by the climate change debate, vaguely familiar with it but not engaging in it. Articles like Rose’s, and blogs like Delingpole’s, probably do awaken a some people each time to check out the truth. A small percentage might follow the trail to find the truth. A few probably end up at WUWT and think that is a science site. I have learned an immense amount visiting this site daily over the last six or seven months purely because you are patient enough to explain reality rather than the fantasy that seems to persist in the minds of Watts, Monckton, Tisdale and so on. The fact that the scientists who do the hard yards don’t have the time and opportunity to shout as loud as the so-called skeptics means that those that do are doing a fantastic job flying the flag for truth and honesty. Have a break. Relax and feel satisfied that the fake skeptics have suffered a real body blow from the IPCC.

  19. Paul says:

    Since I don’t bother trying to learn about complex ideas with twitter, perhaps I have missed the primary source of your frustration. I will say I have found your blog to be informative and I find it relatively easy to see your emphasis on the data and scientific literature over personal opinion. In fact, the large use of opinion and innuendo to support an anti-anthropogenic warming argument, rather than the literature, probably says a lot on its own.
    We all have family or friends that are convinced about something odd like “alternative medicine”, astrology, etc. because they KNOW from personal experience that their idea is right. If they don’t have scientific training, no amount of logic is going to convince them otherwise if they KNOW they are right. The curious issue for me isn’t so much how people untrained in science are failing to address scientific questions in a scientific manner, it’s how do you explain intellectually sloppy, public behavior of people like Judith Curry. I read her article a while ago in the Financial Post “Kill the IPCC: After decades and billions spent, the climate body still fails to prove humans behind warming.” As best I could tell the only data issue that she mentioned in the article that even pertained to the claimed failure was “temperatures have declined and climate models have failed to predict this decline.” Everything else was pure opinion, most of which had nothing directly to do with the purported failure. Reading your blog presented a much clearer picture of the actual scientific issues that made this claimed failure by Curry read like a bad joke. Finally, I don’t really know how we explain this type of behavior, but of course anyone in science knows what it feels like to have a paper or grant rejected, often in a way that is really annoying. I can only guess that this does something to your logical mind if the idea that this rejection is being done for a political reason begins to take over. At which point, the idea of winning, rather than just understanding, must take over.

  20. I agree with you, Rachel: tough to stick to one topic. I should have included that one above. Stick to the topic.

    In my opinion, the first step to stick to the topic is to resist baits.

    Baits come in many forms, but they all share a common trait: they ignore t question and burden the interlocutor with an undeserved comitment. The first one is pervasive: we have preserved ignoratio elenchi for a reason. The second one is more pernicious. If you look at how Denizens respond to Lacis, you’ll see how they challenge him on many questions his comment does not commit him to say anything.

    If Lacis responded to those baits, say because they seem easy to refute, he opens a can of worms. The discussion degenerate for the simple reason that it becomes exponential. If in response to A, you can invoke B, C, and D, each one will in turn lead to E, D, F, …

    In fact, all a baiter would need is two baits. You say Science, he responds Yes, but Policy. You respond OK, politics, he responds Yes, but Science. It never ends.

    The only way out is to remind the baiter that you are not required to respond to his baits and that he fails to acknowledge your point, id est your claim on a topic.

  21. verytallguy says:

    Well, that wasn’t intended to be quite as negative as it reads. I should have added that there are other excellent motivations for running a blog on climate science and/or politics. To take one at random, “Trying to keep the discussion civil” could be a useful contribution. Good luck.

  22. toby52 says:

    I had much the same experience … I used to read Steve Milloy’s site untl I soon realised the man was a raving shill for any corporate client who paid him. This was before Skeptical Science but I bought and read David Archer’s The Long Thaw, which was more or less the start and first milestone in my journey of enquiry. I regard myself as someone who wants to know more.

  23. Fragmeister says:

    The difference between a real skeptic and a fake one is just what you said, toby52: the real skeptic wants to know more, the fake one already knows.

  24. Reich.Eschhaus says:

    Wotts, you could have spared yourself disillusionment by checking out the comment section below about every climate related news article. It’s all there for everybody to see. Not taking in arguments, sophistry, repetitive claims etc etc. As you will have noticed you will be stalked. There appears to be a substantial number of “sceptic” commenters, twitterers, recommenders with too much time on their hands.

    Makes me think these are retired people. However, there are also a lot of people who accept the science who have a lot of time to counter “sceptic” arguments. See the comment pages at the guardian for instance. Are most of these retired too? Is a lot of the discussions because of the increasing percentage of elderly in western societies?

    And of course there are also scientists like yourself who spend a lot of time on the social internet. I am wondering, is it proving to much to keep up with the “sceptics” who are happy to go into discussions forever (and you are explicitly into this to find some reasonable exchange of ideas), or is it the sheer point-scoring opportunism that I notice to be happening a lot that is putting you off? Or is the family complaining? 😉

    Anyways, good on you if you keep to your rules. If you don’t, then it may be a sign that you are hooked to the game…

  25. dbostrom says:

    “Trying to keep the discussion civil” lines up nicely with “write for the lurker.”

    There are probably better terms for “lurker.” Disinclined to combat, admirably modest, etc.

    My compulsion to rattle my mouth (or keyboard) could well be a character fault.

  26. Marco says:

    I’m not a star at making links, so I add more medicine the old-fashioned way:

  27. Rachel says:

    I reckon anything that makes you laugh is good medicine. The People of Walmart usually works for me: http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/

  28. Yes, hard not to smile at cute babies and animals 🙂

  29. Thanks for all the comments. I’m starting to feel somewhat refreshed already 🙂 However, I do still have to finish a paper, write lecture notes, finish a draft of a chapter and, now, review two other papers (one of which is really making very little sense at the moment, even though the basic idea seems interesting) and so my blogging may well have to take a little bit of a back seat for a while.

  30. But the above would hold if Lacis is a saint, and his interlocutors are not. He is not, unfortunately.

  31. Why? Surely the suggestion is simply that if you are the originator of a series of comments you have the right to stick to the issue you were addressing and shouldn’t feel obliged to head off in various other tangents simply because someone’s response suggests that you do so. Seems quite sensible to me. Wish I did that more, to be honest.

  32. Thanks. I’m glad some people are finding it useful. One reason I should probably take a break is that I’m finding myself writing posts that are more opinion than science (there’s only so many times you can rebut the same argument). I don’t mind expressing my opinions in posts, but would rather it didn’t become the norm 🙂

  33. To a certain extent, not getting hooked it one of my goals. Not sure if I’ll succeed (I do know that I have a nasty habit of not simply letting things go by) but I’ll give it a good try 🙂

  34. Unfortunately wotts, the comments section does not perform well as a soapbox, and is, in fact, not a soapbox, as you would know. You want control over the direction of the conversation, you start a blog, as you have done here.

  35. Sure, but I still think that a commenter has the right to decide not to be mis-directed. It may end the discussion but that would seem to be their right. Sadly, people often get judged for doing so, but I – as you might imagine 🙂 – wish that were not the case.

  36. BBD says:

    Lacis has the patience of a saint, dealing politely enough with the nonsense on that thread. Why is Lacis unholy, Shub? What’s he supposed to have done?

    * * *

    As for you wittering about comments not being a soapbox, ha ha. Last time you popped up here you used comments as a soapbox for your wild (and still unsubstantiated) assertions. You lack self-awareness, Shub. You should be aware of that.

  37. > Why?

    You’re getting baited again, Wott.

    Shub can now switch on Lacis’ character or scientists like Lacis.

    Shun can also switch on anyone who he identifies as believing in Lacis’ sainthood.

    Character assassination stops by first refusing baits and switches on characters.

  38. In other words, see you Saturday morning.

  39. Some evidence about the politics-science two-step:

    The bout between @JonathanE22 and @Tokyo_Tom blasted about 50 tweets.

  40. I rather like Twitter.

    This wins:

  41. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this Willard. And we have the perfect example with Shub’s comment about Lacis’s character. What’s the best thing to do? Completely ignore the comment? Point out politely that someone’s personality is off-topic? I’m never sure whether to ignore or say something without rocketing off someone unintended.

  42. Rachel says:

    I mean rocketing off somewhere, not someone.

  43. Rachel says:

    OK, sorry, I see you’ve already answered my question. It’s ok to respond by pointing out that it is bait.

  44. BBD says:

    It’s equally easy – and effective – to demonstrate that Shub has no grounds for maligning Lacis’ character and is simply personalising and demonising – so demonstrating that he has no *scientific* argument and is therefore obliged instead to resort to bad faith.

    Note that Shub did not answer my question. Note that he never answers my questions.

  45. BBD says:

    If God has already won, then what is the point in continuing to tweet?


    This reminds me vaguely of a half-remembered theological conundrum about omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence resulting in His being unable to actually *do* anything.

  46. I don’t want to make it a silver bullet, Rachel.

    In my own experience, to remind the baiter (in our case, Shub) of his tricks and of my non-commitment to the topics he tries to inject is usually enough for him to start attacking me.

    If that’s the case, I believe it’s important not to become defensive. If you start defend yourself, you accept to become the topic of the discussion, and the baiter succeeds in derailing the discussion.

    Even when the baiter attacks you, and perhaps even more so, you need to keep on topic and stick to your commitments.

    Since I’m not on my tablet, I can refer you to an excellent post about commitments:

    Managing argumentative responsibilities

    Key to any successful debate is managing the basic responsibilities: who is obligated to defend what. If responsibilities aren’t limited, a debate e.g. over some immediate political issue can easily devolve back into a debate on how we know anything at all–philosophically interesting, perhaps, but far from the original topic. And if the responsibilities aren’t clearly defined, participants can find the debate slipping from one issue to another in what may be an unproductive fashion.

    The extended abstract of an as-yet unpublished conference paper by myself and a colleague had been brought into the conversation at Climate Audit by Steve McIntyre. I entered the discussion understanding that I’m responsible for defending what my colleague and I said in that paper, and for clearly indicating areas where we remained uncertain/where the draft is under development, and for changing what we said if it turns out to be indefensible.

    Other participants in the debate appeared to think that we had much, much broader responsibilities, however. For example: […]



    Hope this helps,


  47. idunno says:

    Hey, cheer up dude.

    In a major setback for the deniers, Anthony Watts, though otherwise acting in character, has apparently shaved off his moustache:


    Though, natch, he denies everything:


    Hope this helps.

  48. Rachel says:

    Thanks, Willard. Jean Goodwin’s post is excellent and makes some very good points.

    I have found myself getting defensive quite a number of times. Previously I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it but now that I am, I think I am doing it less. For example, I have had people ask me – when I’ve written something about climate change – what am I doing personally to combat the problem? The implication being that if I’m still turning on my lights then I’m guilty.

    So the key point is not to get defensive and don’t let yourself become the topic of discussion.

  49. dbostrom says:

    More goat cheese.

  50. Reich.Eschhaus says:

    Be strong! Do NOT look here:


    (deleted “twitter.com” in link to avoid embedding)

    If you can’t control yourself 😉 and do look, resist the urge to react! Good luck!

  51. Fragmeister nailed what toby52 said: “The real skeptic wants to know more. The fake one already knows.

    That is THE first most important thing to figure in any discussion. The good thing, most fakes can be easily identified with the first comment (if suspicious, google helps). Real ones typically don’t have a track record and ask polite questions. After years, the divide has become crystal clear (at least for me). Either due to a real shift or due to experience. Not sure. Most likely the latter. In contrast, the way to deal with fakes is exclusively a matter of experience.

    Wotts, I think you are getting there slowly. The disillusionment expressed in your posting is part of this development. Once you realized that fakes are extremely unlikely to ever change their position (a very smart person once said: Never underestimate people’s capacity to be irrational!), define some rules for yourself. How much time do I wanna spent? Could it be a fun game (it can be very funny), or am I simply not interested? If you are up for some fun, set the rules for anyone else according to willards very wise suggestions above: (1) Do not become defensive. (2) Do not get “baited”. I might add: (3) Better don’t even start discussing the science with fakes! Instead, check the basics: acceptance of textbook knowledge, trust in science and scientists, sources of information etc pp. At this stage you should already get some feeling (if not yet obvious in the first place). Insist on answering! You lead the discussion! If the basics are established, you have something to build on, wherever it may lead …

    Admittedly, it’s very odd a concept for every scientist (it certainly was for me) as it runs completely counter to our daily experience. But always remember the concept of irrationality! Every serious blogger should familiarize oneself with this condition as it helps to save so much time and (utterly) futile effort. Setting such rules is particularly important for Lurkers, as they are more confused by pseudo-debates rather than educated by interesting postings.

    And as usual, I shall add that I do appreciate what you are doing. Thanks wotts! I thought I just share a few of my past experiences, which you may or may not find useful. You may even find them disturbing. After all, anyone of us has different ideas and values. Speaking of such, given own time constraints I wouldn’t mind fewer postings at all ;). That said, you can certainly allow yourself to relax a bit more.

  52. Marco says:

    I took a look, and one word immediately came to mind: cyberbullies. I took the effort to think about that some more (in Kahneman terms: I forced my System 2 to check on my System 1), but came to the same conclusion: these people are typical bullies, ganging up on something they perceive as being down.

    And make no mistake: they are proud of it.

  53. I had actually noticed that. At least they seem to be reading and promoting my blog, rather than simply ignoring it. That says something I imagine 🙂

  54. willard, if you make up tall tales, being kept in or preferring to remain in the dark about the facts, you lose credibility. Lacis does not engage commenters on a good faith basis. You want to continue to think otherwise, that is your prerogative. There are several other (grasping here) contributors who could serve as good examples for people wanting to have a conversation not go off the rails. Before you pour out more froth about the psychology etc, you must be pausing to think, why, if at all, would I be saying something like this.

  55. BBD says:

    Lacis does not engage commenters on a good faith basis.

    Demonstrate this.

  56. Dear Shub,

    Thank you for your kind words and for your overall concerns.

    Please continue.

  57. dana1981 says:

    Ground rules for who you engage with (especially on Twitter) are a good idea. As soon as I identify a denier troll, I stop wasting my time. In fact on Twitter I usually just block them so as not to clutter up my notifications. There’s just no sense in arguing with brick walls – just a waste of valuable time.

    It would be nice if more people would have constructive discussions. On sensitivity, aerosols, ocean warming, and most importantly, policy and solutions. But too many are in denial due to ideological biases. At least the ones who are actually actively discussing the issue. It’s worth remembering they’re a tiny minority and most people are in the ‘undecided middle’ who just don’t understand the urgency of the problem and don’t engage on it, but aren’t deniers.

  58. Yes, I can’t keep spending time on discussions that are going nowhere or in which I end up getting trapped in some silly exchange related to how I phrased something in a tweet. It’s 140 characters, if someone can’t at least interpret what someone else is trying to say on Twitter, it’s hard to imagine that they have much hope in understanding anything complicated about climate science.

    I agree that it would be nice if people could actually have a constructive discussion about the more uncertain aspects of climate science. That many can’t would seem to indicate that they’re too scared to do so as it might force them to recognise that their views have no real foundation. It’s a pity though that such people can’t recognise that accepting that scientific evidence doesn’t immediately tell us what to do or force them to suddenly capitulate about everything. Discussing what we should (or not do) is important and not facing up to this is helping noone.

  59. Louise says:

    I looked at that little exchange also – they come across as a bunch of juvenile kids in the school yard, patting each other on the back that they were able to make the class swot cry (I know you didn’t but they’d like you to)

  60. Thanks. I noticed it but didn’t really follow it. It’s quite hard to get too annoyed by something that is so obviously childish 🙂

  61. Crickets:

  62. Seems that our freedom fighter doesn’t dwell in prejudice:

    > I don’t dwell in prejudice.


    His comment above either proves him wrong or shows that “I don’t dwell in prejudice” has another meaning in Lovecraft’s world.

  63. Reich.Eschhaus says:

    Marco, you are probably right. For instance look at this fellow who indeed seems proud because he believes someone has been brought down:

  64. andrew adams says:

    Well there’s a bunch of people one couldn’t accuse of being insufficiently impressed by their own opinions.
    I trust Wotts is not too upset that their good opinion does not extend to this blog.

  65. andrew adams says:

    Mind you I had to laugh at a certain commenter who complained that he came here and just ended up having an argument about semantics when as far as I can see this happens in every discussion he gets involved on any blog anywhere.

  66. Reich.Eschhaus says:


    “Well there’s a bunch of people one couldn’t accuse of being insufficiently impressed by their own opinions.”

    Is that a convoluted way of saying some people have too big egos?

    “Mind you I had to laugh at a certain commenter who complained that he came here and just ended up having an argument about semantics when as far as I can see this happens in every discussion he gets involved on any blog anywhere.”

    Well… Some do say that this is what wotts complains about. Wotts:

    “Discussions with the latter people are, sadly, largely pointless and seem to end up focusing on the definition of fairly common English words, or something else equally irrelevant”

    Vs. Brandon:

    “Then again, he repeatedly misrepresented what I said then complained I focus on semantics because I corrected him.:


    “Same with me. For him a word means whatever he wants it to mean. And is variable. Humpty Wottsie.”

    and Ben:

    “I saw him complaining about ‘semantics’. Curiously, he demands precision with respect to scientific terms – when it suits.”

    In any case, sophistry is the first choice of weapon if you do not want to understand what the person you are arguing with is trying to communicate.

  67. I wasn’t going to comment too much about this, but one of the semantic arguments Brandon and I had was about my saying “assess the literature” which – if I understood Brandon correctly – was wrong because it meant actually weigh the papers themselves, rather than “survey” what was in the literature. I would hope it would be obvious what I actually meant and, given that it was actually a tweet, that people would appreciate the limitations of 140 characters. Anyway, the reason I thought I would post this is that a recent Telegraph article includes a quote from Myles Allen which says

    “It is not a bible, it is a scientific review, an assessment of the literature. Frankly both sides are seriously confused on how science works – the critics of the IPCC and the environmentalists who credit the IPCC as if it is the gospel.”

    So, maybe this explains the problem people have with the IPCC. They think that the IPCC base their analysis on the physical weight of the papers, rather than by actually reading and interpreting what the papers say. If we could clarify this misunderstanding, maybe the disagreements will go away.

  68. Bwana_mkubwa says:

    Wotts ,

    I have to be honest I don’t know how you find the energy to keep up your polite dialogues with some people.
    I am a academic too and, while I don’t do research into AGW, I keep abreast of what is going on because it impinges on some of the courses I teach. Whenever I look at the “sceptic” sites and blogs like yours I get frustrated by the feeling that we are all stuck in some sort of Donnie Darko/Primer time loop, where the same thing keeps happening again and again with minute changes in the narrative.

  69. To be honest, I don’t know where I’m finding the energy from either. I can’t deny that this is, at the moment, a bit of an obsession. If I am managing to remain civil, it’s only because I know that becoming openly uncivil would be seen as losing. I think some have already perceived this post as illustrating that I’ve lost my civility (although I do acknowledge some irony in this post, it was more to indicate how hard it is to avoid becoming uncivil, rather than suggesting that I’d like to be uncivil).

    One thing I am doing is simply deciding to write posts more quickly. That does mean I make more mistakes, but the comments are there for those who know more to add corrections. I also have no real problem with being wrong as I think that illustrates an aspect of the scientific method (by which I mean, eventually, realising you’re wrong).

    We are clearly – as you suggest – in some kind of strange loop. I do end up repeating myself quite a lot simply because others keep repeating the same nonsense. That’s probably one reason I’m getting more and more disillusioned. Some of what is regularly claimed by some is easily debunked and yet it keeps getting repeated over and over again.

  70. Tom Curtis says:

    Wotts, Brandon’s misinterpretation of “assess” (as interpreted by you) is amazing (coming from anybody but him). Here is the dictionary definition of “assess” (Mirriam-Webster):

    “as·sess transitive verb \ə-ˈses, a-\
    : to make a judgment about (something)

    : to officially say what the amount, value, or rate of (something) is

    : to tax or charge (someone or something) : to require (a person, business, etc.) to pay a particular amount of money”

    Nothing in there about “weighing”. In fact, your usage is entirely standard. Nor can his confusion be based on an obscure point about the origin of the word, which is derived from the Middle English “assize”, which in turn is based on the latin for “to sit beside”.

    Is it possible that you have misunderstood him, and that he was actually claiming that an assessment determines how much weight to give to each paper (ie, how much importance to assign to each paper in making a final determination)? Even that claim would represent a very crude understanding of a scientific assessment, IMO – but at least it is not incoherent.

  71. Tom, possibly – it all got rather convoluted rather quickly, and I was rather taken by surprise by the whole discussion so was never quite sure that I understood the point he was making. It did appear, though, to be a rather pedantic interpretation of the word “assess” and that I had said “assess the literature” rather than “assess what was in the literature”. So, I think I understood what he was suggesting, but – to be fair – I may well have misunderstood what he was saying.

  72. Also, I should add that my original comment above (in case it wasn’t obvious) was meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek. 🙂

  73. andrew adams says:


    Is that a convoluted way of saying some people have too big egos?

    Yes, that’s about it. Of course this is hardly an unusual trait in discussions on the internet, but there did seem to be plenty on display in that particular discussion and I don’t think the people concerned are those whose good opinion Wotts should be particlar concerned about courting. Mind you I don’t claim that my good opinion is something which is in particularly high demand either.

    As for discussions getting bogged down in semantics, well I think this is something many of us have had cause to complain about at times but there are certain people, including some you mentioned, who tend to be disproportionately involved in such discussions.

  74. Rachel says:

    Look on the bright side: at least you don’t have to argue with members of your own family. I’ve got climate science critics and creationists in mine 😦

  75. That may be true, but that’s partly because most of my family live sufficiently far away that we tend not to argue when we see each other 🙂

  76. Rachel says:

    My family never lets distance get in the way of a good argument 😉

  77. An update: crickets on the twittersphere. Crickets at SHub’s too.


    > semantic arguments

    Since semantics is a formal discipline (e.g. Gödel’s completeness theorem), I prefer to talk about parsomatics:


    Readers should see that most of these comments lead to the Parsomatics’ mecca, i.e. Lucia’s.

    My favourite parsing contest was no doubt the one about the word “truism”. There was also this other one about whether an agent should be considered a script or a bot. The one about “acidification” was not bad either.

  78. Reich.Eschhaus says:


    “As for discussions getting bogged down in semantics, well I think this is something many of us have had cause to complain about at times but there are certain people, including some you mentioned, who tend to be disproportionately involved in such discussions.”

    Yes, you are right. There is a lot of “pedantism” going on. The question is why? I already mentioned sophistry as a weapon. I suspect some of these ‘certain people’ to use it like that. But I don’t get this impressions with all them. There are some that, I think, exhibit this pedantry as a character trait (some are pedantic at all times, even to those who seem to have similar ideas, others behave pedantic only with those who hold a clearly different opinion).

    On a completely unrelated note, did you know that pedantry can be a sign of OCD or AS?

  79. andrew adams says:


    I wasn’t aware of that, but it doesn’t particularly surprise me. I think you are right to make the distinction – there are certainly instances where such arguments are a deliberate ploy to derail the discussion and avoid the underlying issue. I think that the arguments over the term “acidification” which Willard mentions tend to fall into this category. But yes, with some people it does seem to go deeper than that, not only do they seem impelled to find nits to pick but once they have found one they simply can’t let it go.

  80. andrew adams says:


    Yes, I think that parsomatics is a better term. Alternatively I guess we could spend the next three days arguing about which is the “proper” expression to use 😉

  81. Andrew,

    Let’s not forget this important move in parsomatics:

    > There are commenters here who would have absolutely nothing to say if they weren’t quibbling about semantics.


    I’m being accused of quibbling about semantics because I told Marcia that she might be going a bridge too far with her

    By not working toward an agenda, we have the liberty to be truly curious and awed!

    when she just co-authored with Judy. This accusation comes of course from the white knights who target me and the words I use, not what I say.


  82. andrew adams says:


    Yes, I saw that. Marcia’s comment about not having an agenda certainly struck me as a bit odd and given its close resemblance to the kind of snide aside which one expects from Judy nowadays it’s fair to point it out and wonder what she meant.

    Still, I guess we should be charitable in our interpretation of Marcia’s words – despite her association with Judy (and indeed Pielke Snr) she seems sincere enough and I don’t see any reason to doubt that she genuinely thinks she is onto something with her “stadium-wave” theory.

  83. Reich.Eschhaus says:


    from the people in the twitter conversation I linked to I suspect one to be somewhere high up the (what is now called) the ASD scale. (On a side note, the categorisation of “skeptic” and “non-skeptic” views which appears en vogue at present seems to put Engineers in the “skeptic” camp. Symptoms of Asperger are often found among Engineers, however also among Scientists (wotts, take note! 😉 .)

    Among the regular commenters at WUWT I suspect at least one to be highly OCD. I will not name anyone. Remote diagnosis is irresponsible.

  84. > Still, I guess we should be charitable in our interpretation of Marcia’s words – despite her association with Judy (and indeed Pielke Snr) she seems sincere enough […]

    I agree with you, Andrew. Hence my comment, which I tried to clarify here:


    Appealing to motivations is the best way to bring them in the discussion. Doing so with our own motivations is suboptimal. It’s as simple as that.

  85. gnomish says:

    god gave you opposable thumbs so you can suck one with each face.

  86. That’s quite good, I’ll grant you that.

  87. tallbloke says:

    How tall are you VTG? There could be a misrepresentation issue here.

  88. verytallguy says:


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