Admitting Mistakes and Dishonesty

I recently called John Cook a “filthy liar” for what almost certainly started as a mistake. There, the reasoning was simple. Cook knows he used a fabricated quote, and he refuses to fix it. That is dishonest. What about a more complicated situation?

A while back, I wrote a post highlighting problems with a post written by the blogger now known as andtheresphysics (nicknamed Anders). An exchange followed in which Anders misrepresented a paper in a glaringly obvious way. He accused Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick of publishing deceptive graphs in the paper when the paper contained nothing of the sort. Had he bothered to even glance at the paper he was criticizing, he’d have known what he was saying was false. When this was pointed out to him, he repeatedly refused to look at the paper, instead insisting other sources proved he was right.

Eventually, Anders painted me as a terrible person, left the exchange and banned me at his blog (for my behavior here). He then wrote a post referencing his experience in which he said:

What I was pondering was why, given that during this particular exchange I had said something that was not technically correct, I didn’t simply openly acknowledge that and try to move on?

Anders had fabricated a claim to criticize a paper by people he dislikes but he acknowledged is he made a claim “that was not technically correct.” That’s a fascinating situation. Nobody could possibly know what Anders thinks he got wrong. At face value, it seemed he thinks simply making things up to criticize people he dislikes is merely being “technically incorrect.”

Today’s developments make things more interesting. Anders wrote a blog post which said:

The comments also play a role. They’re there for people to correct me when I’m wrong, as I often am (well, as long as you can convince me that I’m wrong at least).

I found this amusing as I got banned for an exchange in which I proved him wrong and couldn’t resist commenting. My comment got deleted with this moderation note:

[Mod : Actually, I was going to put this through, but I’m not interested. Docevus, to answer your question though, yes I got the specifics of that wrong. Happy?]

He acknowledges he “got the specifics of that wrong.” What were the specifics? Well, the comment which got deleted said:

Is Anders acknowledging he fabricated a claim in order to criticize a paper then refused to even look at the paper? Nobody can know. Again, Anders made a vague comment admitting some mistake but didn’t actually say what the mistake was. So I responded:

That got deleted too, with the hilarious moderation note:

[Mod: Off-topic and rinse and repeat. He’s already acknowledged he got it wrong. Do you want the shirt off his back too?]

Apparently the moderator would have us believe asking someone to actually say what they got wrong is inappropriate. This seemed ridiculous so I commented:

That was let through, but another hilarious moderation note was added:

[Mod: I will let this comment stand in its entirety if only to allow you to have your word and be done with it. Any more like this will be deleted for rinsing and repeating. I just want to say though that I’ve never known anyone to acknowledge their mistakes more so than our host. You don’t have to read much of this blog to see that.]

I can’t decide what to make of all this. Anders openly acknowledges he got something wrong, but he refuses to say what that something is. He also refuses to make any effort to correct whatever it is. And he certainly isn’t apologetic about whatever it is. The way he and his moderator act (as well as at least one commenter), I’m the bad guy for asking him to do anything about it.

Are they dishonest? I’m not sure. They seem to genuinely believe I’m the bad guy and they’re the victims. The fact Anders completely fabricated a claim in order to criticize people he dislikes seems lost on them. It seems they are either unaware of it, despite how obvious it is, or they somehow think it is unimportant. It’s crazy.

My question is, if a person repeatedly insists a fabricated claim about a paper is true, refuses to look at that paper and bans the person who pointed out the fabrication then goes onto acknowledge he got something wrong but refuses to state what it was, refuses to take any steps to correct it and acts as though anyone expecting him to do so is unreasonable…

How can anyone shrug their shoulders, or even worse, say he’s right? If that sort of behavior isn’t dishonest, what is it? And what kind of world do we live in if it’s okay?



  1. The moderator who helps Anders (Rachel) and I had an… interesting exchange on Twitter. Things were fairly rapid-fire until ~30 minutes ago when she suddenly stopped responding. I don’t know what caused the interruption or if there will be any further communication, but the point where things stopped is surprisingly fitting:

    It’s a really simple idea, and I think it pretty much sums things up.

  2. A commenter on Anders’s post, Steve Bloom, defended Anders’s fabricated claim by… fabricating another claim. Short version:

    Oops. So 10,000 were run, the 100 most resembling an upward-bending hockey stick were selected, and 1 of those was reproduced as a representative sample (2 others were printed in the paper, but those were taken from MBH 98). And this was the basis for the central claim of the paper. To my knowledge MM have never come clean about this.

    I had been told my one comment would be my last word, but obviously I couldn’t refrain from pointing out this was completely wrong. I did so, and my comment went through. A few minutes later, I checked again, and my comment had been moved into the moderation queue. Rather than wait and see what happens, I’m going to just post a copy of it here:

  3. My response to Steve Bloom got deleted. That means Anders is using censorship to allow obviously false claims to go uncontested. And he’s justifying doing by fabricating things. He just said the reason he banned me is:

    Dovecus (aka Brandon) – I’ll answer this once. You’re not banned because you showed I was wrong about something. That’s fine and many have done so in the past and will do so again. You’re banned because in that discussion you threw around accusations of lying. A mistake is not immediately a lie. I’m not interested in discussions with people who very quickly make such accusations. I’m also not discussing this with you again. I really, really do not want to encounter you ever again. It may not say so explicitly in my moderation policy, but sockpuppetting is also not allowed.

    I had not called anyone a liar in any of the exchanges I had with him. He is simply making that up. And he is using that complete fabrication to justify banning me so I can’t point out he completely fabricated a claim to criticize a paper by people he dislikes. And in the process, Steve Bloom is being allowed to fabricate things about the same paper in order to defend Anders. It’s utterly insane. I posted a comment expressing my displeasure, but I was apparently added to the site’s blacklist so it won’t appear (and I can’t take a screenshot). I’m reproducing it below:

    Anders, you just gave a false reason for banning me:

    You’re banned because in that discussion you threw around accusations of lying.

    I did not accuse you of lying. Making this false claim your last response to me would be a bad idea. As would allowing Steve Bloom’s false claims about McIntyre and McKitrick’s papers.

    That said, if you choose to censor my corrections to false claims published at your site, I will abide by that and refrain from commenting here again.

  4. Being seen to allow one of us to correct one of them would wake the Uncertainty Monster, merchandize Doubt and undermine Understanding, thus endangering the planet. So while we may feel indignant at being suckered into a game against Chaucerian cheats, we should accept it as a small price for protecting the climate and ensuring our children and grandchildren actually survive the Anthropocene.

  5. If that’s what it boils down to, it’s pathetic. First Skeptical Science, then Anders. It’s like every site I see supporting global warming concerns happily endorses close-minded dishonesty.

  6. “happily endorses close-minded dishonesty.”

    I think the PC term is “climate honesty,” also known as, “the right balance between being effective and being honest.”


  7. Despite his continual “honest broker” routine of “poor me I’m only doing my best to keep a civil debate going” – Anders is actually one of the more devious & dishonest characters in the blogosphere.

    He frequently posts nasty, smearing innuendo about sceptics and their claims – followed up with something like “of course I haven’t fully considered it yet, so I could be wrong”.

    This provides a dog whistle to the more thuggish tendency among his followers to join a witch hunt – while allowing him plausible deniability if it all gets too vicious.

    His choice of someone as dim as Rachel to moderate also helps with this. She’s wildly partisan, but only understands about 25% of what’s going on – so she delete stuff randomly whenever she feels the “home team” are losing points.

    It’s almost got worse than SkS now. The moderation is just as one sided but the fact that it lacks any technical meat to chew over means the denizens spend more of time on their ritual, tribal “death to all sceptics” war dances.

    Anyway – Anders has finally “come out” in his latest post last night, saying “I also don’t want this to become a place where people can express their contrarian views”.

    So he wants a climate-cult echo chamber – and that’s exactly what he’s creating.

    I shan’t bother posting there again.

  8. @Foxgoose
    “His choice of someone as dim as Rachel to moderate also helps with this.”

    Rachel is Wottsie’s patsy, so he can avoid direct responsibility for any censorship. It’s a thoroughly dishonest way to operate a blog.

    Reminds of student union meetings back in the day ;o))

  9. The whole AGW theory and alarmism is based on dishonesty Brandon.

    Nothing new there. I wonder what they think of the GISS adjustments? How SkS or anyone else uses GISS as evidence of warming is a joke.

  10. Anders now justifies claiming I called him a liar by saying:

    Reich, yes it did. I haven’t gone back to read that comment thread for a long time, so it is quite possible (as your quote seems to indicate) that he used the word “fabricate” rather then “lie”. Unless someone can convince me that “fabricate” means “I think you’re wrong, please clarify” rather than “To concoct in order to deceive” (free online dictionary) my reasons remain as they were at 7.01am.

    This gives rise to the question, does saying someone fabricated a claim inherently accuse them of lying? If we use Anders’s cherry-picked definition, sure. On the other hand, most words can be used in many ways. Fabricate is often used in terms of manufacturing. That doesn’t imply dishonesty. Clearly, we have to do more than cherry-pick a single definition to show an interpretation is correct. As such, we should check a variety of sources. Starting with Ander’s source, we get these definitions:

    1. To make; create.
    2. To construct by combining or assembling diverse, typically standardized parts
    3. To concoct in order to deceive

    You’ll note Anders did not tell his readers he was using the third definition. This is important as dictionaries tend to place the most commonly used definitions first. By his own source, we should favor a neutral interpretation over an accusatory one. Other dictionaries make the issue more clear, such as the Oxford Dictionary which says:

    invent or concoct (something), typically with deceitful intent:

    What this shows is saying someone fabricated a claim implies there is a good chance they’re being dishonest, but it isn’t certain. That’s exactly how I used the word. When a person makes wildly untrue claims about a five page paper, claims which would immediately be seen to be false were one to look at that paper, it is unlikely they are behaving in an honest way. Therefore, it is appropriate to say they invented their claim, likely because of dishonest intent.

    Saying a person lied means they are dishonest. Saying a person fabricated a claim means they appear dishonest.

  11. Brandon,

    I think you should allow for the possibility that others are operating under the same definition Anders uses, whether or not you agree with it, and are therefore bound to read any charge of “fabricating” a proposition as an unequivocal claim of dishonesty.

    Also, Anders’ “cherry pick” of the third definition might well be justified by the fact that the first 2 senses describe the literal production of objects, whereas only the 3rd sense is relevant to speech acts.

    I hate to agree with Anders—largely because he outsources his own dishonesty and lack of intellectual courage to ‘Rachel’—but in this particular case, I can understand his elision of “fabricate” with “lie.”

  12. Brad Keyes, I’m not surprised people might conflate fabricating with lying. That’s why I never use the word “fabricate” unless I feel it is reasonable to conclude the person a liar. In this case, Anders repeatedly refused to even glance at his own source while insisting his obviously false claim about the source was correct. Given it’s reasonable to assume a person will look at what he or she is criticizing, it’s reasonable to conclude Anders was intentionally lying. However, I recognize reasonable conclusions are not always correct, and as such, I used the word “fabricate” instead of “lie.”

    The issue here isn’t how he interpreted the statement at the time. The issue is that he is now cherry-picking a definition to justify a wrong interpretation, and his cherry-picking is not justified. The second definition is as you say, but the first gives no indication it is only in reference to “the literal production of objects.” Even if you don’t accept that, many other dictionaries show the same pattern I highlighted. That means you’d be stuck saying Anders cherry-picked his dictionary, not a definition within that dictionary. That’s basically an irrelevant distinction.

    Could Anders reasonably have believed I was accusing him of lying at the time? Sure. I knew he might, and I was perfectly okay with that. However, the fact he might have reasonably believed I was accusing him of that does not justify him now claiming I did accuse of him of that.

    Put simply, when multiple interpretations are valid, one cannot state a single interpretation is the one everyone must use.

  13. I’m not sure why I’m commenting here. Perhaps it is just to let you folks know that I read the insults you hurl my way. But that is fine. I should thank you all for keeping my mind off of missing my beautiful city of York.

    I would like to correct foxgoose who calls me “wildly partisan”. I’m a swing voter. Always have been.

  14. You have accused me of being dishonest and of falling flat on my face. But please don’t take this to be me whining. Feel free to say what you will about me.

    I don’t like censorship either. I was tough on your comments because I knew you were using a sock-puppet and I knew that you had been banned.

    Something I don’t like is accusations of lies. I don’t like it from either side of the debate, not just from those I disagree with. I actually do very little moderating and deleting of comments, despite what you may think. AndThen publishes most things on his blog. The main bulk of editing I do is closing tags that commenters have forgotten to close or snipping ad homs made by commenters I agree with.

    I truly wish the discussions around climate change were not so contentious and that people could just be nice to each other and respectful of differences of opinion.

  15. “I truly wish the discussions around climate change were not so contentious and that people could just be nice to each other and respectful of differences of opinion.”

    Deleting differing opinions is not very “respectful of differences of opinion,” Rachel. Nor does it do anything to reduce the contentiousness of the debate. Quite the reverse, I’d say.

    And that’s exactly what you do—delete comments. Or put them in indefinite moderation, or however you want to euphemize it.

    You’re a climate deletionist.

  16. I suppose I did call you (or at least your behavior) dishonest, so that’s fair enough. Saying you fell on your face wasn’t an insult though. It was just an observation. You should try not jump to conclusions about these things. A lot of comments can be taken as insults even though they’re not.

    A more interesting point to me is you say you “don’t like censorship either.” However, you or Anders deleted my response to Steve Bloom which said nothing about any issue I had discussed before. All the comment did was point out Steve Bloom’s defense of Anders was completely wrong. To this moment, Bloom’s false claims stand uncontested. That means you and Anders have been presented a clear argument saying Steve Bloom misrepresented a paper in order to criticize it, and you’ve done nothing about it. Even if you don’t think I should be allowed to comment, surely the issue I raise is worth examination.

    As for accusations of lies, I don’t like them either. That’s why I rarely make them. However, what Anders said about the McIntyre and McKitrick paper was completely and obviously untrue. Had he even looked at the paper, he’d have seen his accusations were untrue. When he was told this, he didn’t look at the paper like any normal person would. He didn’t try to provide a reference within the paper to support what he said. How would you interpret that if I did it? Would you interpret that as me behaving honestly? Would you shrug your shoulders and say it is okay?

    Moreover, while Anders has said he was “wrong,” he has never said what he was wrong about. To this day, nobody could possibly know what he thinks he was wrong about. He could be admitting he said completely and obviously untrue things about his own source, or he could be claiming he was simply wrong about a number or some other inconsequential thing. If I did that, would you interpret that as an honest answer? Would you allow me to post completely and utterly untrue things on a blog so long as I later stated, “Oh, well, I said something that wasn’t technically correct?”

    The reality is I don’t like calling people dishonest. I don’t want to have to do it. The only reason I do it is because there is no alternative other than making myself complicit in the dishonesty.

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