This is Not Censorship

I’ve been banned from three climate change blogs or websites. All three are run by global warming advocates. None of my bans were due to me misbehaving in any way at their sites. It was always due to them disliking me or what I had to say. I know what it means to be censored.

That’s why it bugs me to no end when people make bogus complaints of censorship. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. If enough people claim they were censored when they weren’t, few people will believe me when I say I’ve been censored. Today, I’ll look at an example.

For background, John Abraham wrote an article for The Guaridan criticizing Richard Tol. Readers of this blog will be familiar with it as I’ve previously discussed the disagreement between Tol and Abraham. I won’t revisit that. Instead, I’d like to focus on a new issue which has arisen from it. On Twitter, Tol said:

I saw people retweet this, so I responded, suggesting they ought to consider the possibility Tol was the one in the wrong. I then asked to see the comment which had been deleted so I could judge for myself whether its deletion was reasonable or not. There was a series of exchanges I won’t get into, but they showed nobody knew what the comment had actually said.

Tol had already posted some 20 comments on that site without problem, but as soon as one comment got deleted, Tol claimed he was being censored. How could people see this one deleted comment as proving censorship if they didn’t even know what was deleted? I couldn’t understand that conclusion when and originally this was all the available information:

There are lots of ways to draw attention to something. Some are good. Some are not. Without more information, I wasn’t willing to draw a conclusion. Few others took this reasonable precaution. When Tol explicitly said he had been banned:

Over a dozen people retweeted him. A number of people responded in support of him. Nobody did anything to verify he actually had been banned. One person (other than myself) did ask to see the comment which (supposedly) got him banned, and Tol responded:

I took issue with two things about this tweet. First, accusations of dishonesty are commonly banned in comment sections. One could easily assume the reason this one comment was deleted while the other ~20 or so were not is this comment specifically accused John Abraham of lying.

Second, at the time he tweeted that image, a functionally equivalent comment from him was visible on the site. It said:

A point by point response to Mr Abraham

It’s difficult to see how this comment could have been posted if Tol had been banned for an earlier comment. It’s also difficult to understand how Tol was being censored if a comment serving the same purpose as the one which got him “banned” passed moderation. The only meaningful difference between the two comments is the unacceptable one accused a person of lying while the other did not.

Both of these are obvious issues with Tol’s claim of censorship. Nobody else seemed to notice them. Nobody even noticed when Tol went on to post:

Banned? Disappeared? What is he talking about? The screenshot he posted showed two comments from him which weren’t deleted. Both of these comments were made after he was supposedly banned. How does posting a screenshot of comments allowed after you’re “banned” prove you were banned (or disappeared)?

In fact, the only other comments anyone has pointed to as having been deleted were comments which discussed moderation decisions, like:

But there is nothing remarkable about such a comment getting deleted. Tons of sites prohibit discussions of moderation decisions in their comments sections as those discussions are off-topic (amongst other things). That’s not censorship. It’s enforcing basic rules.

As far as I can see, there is no censorship here. Richard Tol was allowed to comment many times, and he was allowed to link to whatever material he wanted. The only thing we have evidence he wasn’t allowed to do is accuse people of dishonesty. The only thing we have evidence anyone else wasn’t allowed to do is discuss moderation decisions in the comments section of that article. People can disagree about whether preventing those things was right or wrong, but it wasn’t censorship.

There has been no evidence provided indicating censorship happened. It’s possible censorship happened, but unless or until evidence is provided to show such, there is no reason anyone should assume it happened. Moreover, there’s multiple pieces of evidence indicating no censorship took place.

No skeptic should take Richard Tol at his word. No skeptic should willfully ignore evidence which contradicts him. No skeptic should jump to conclusions without evidence to support them.

Only a person operating on bias should believe censorship happened here.



  1. You have a funny definition for what it means to “accuse people of dishonesty.”

    What if this “accusation” is directed at the author, by the person who the article is written on? What if the ‘accusation’ were to be true?

    Corrections have already been published. Why did Abraham not mention them in his article? Not mentioning the existence of the corrections would make Abraham dishonest. The substance of these corrections is an entirely different matter Above everyone else, the target of Abraham’s story has the right to represent this fact in the comments. Not just in comments alone, but in a reply article of equal standing, accompanied by ammendments to correct the record.

    The “Community Standards” excuse does not fly for situations where a specific person has been named in an article and the said person steps forward in the comments section to provide evidence that falsehoods have been uttered. At that point if moderators who are none but agents of the newspaper they work for, apply the rule of ‘no accusation of dishonesty’ to snip comments, they are perpetrating libel in the name of ‘not tolerating personal attacks’.

    The no “accusation of dishonesty” rule only holds if there is reasonable grounds to suppose there is little, if any, truth to such accusations. The rule falls apart when they turn true. What the Guardian moderators did was to remove the starker, more direct statements on Mr Abraham’s action(s) from the comment streams, leaving the muted statements of the same facts in place. Any reader of the comments would not be aware of this, post-deletion. Moderation ought not to involve suppression of facts. It then crosses the line into censorship.

  2. Shub Niggurath, I decided not to write a response when I first saw this comment. Even now I’m struggling not to just laugh at it.

    You’ve just argued a rule which prohibits accusations of dishonesty can’t be applied to (certain) accusations which are true without it being censorship. That argument holds applying a rule uniformly to be censorship. The only way people could avoid censorship in your stated view is for them to not enforce rules in a consistent way. I can’t imagine a sillier way to support accusations of censorship.

    According to you, freely allowing Richard Tol to make his arguments in any which doesn’t violate common rules is censorship.

  3. For more silliness, Richard Tol and Shub Niggurath are claiming the purpose of this article was to “nail [Tol’s] sorry arse”:

    Read Tol’s tweet. Is there anything which suggests to you the “writer” he refers to is not the author of the article in question? No. Tol is taking a statement from a third party, who happens to write for the same organization, and portraying it as though its from the author of the piece. That’s blatantly dishonest.

    But the tweet is also stupid. Nothing in the comment these two highlight discusses the purpose of anything. All it discusses is what the article accomplished. I could say the same thing about any article which makes a person look bad. That doesn’t mean all of those articles are made with the intention of making someone look bad. Sometimes that just happens when you report things.

    You cannot take a third party’s description of the effect of an article as stating the purpose of the article. It’s nonsensical. It doesn’t somehow become okay just because the third party works for the same organization.

  4. What defines “global warming advocates”?

    Those who assert (counter to the best scientific work?) that there are net benefits from climate change and increased CO2 emissions would provide economic / other benefits?

    Or, are you referencing scientists / institutions / others who lay out the science of climate change and try to help (reasonable) people understand the state of the science, humanity’s impact on the climate, and the risks associated with unchecked human impact on the climate?

  5. A Siegel, your comment poses a false dilemma. I’m not sure if there’s any agreed upon definition for the phrase, but I’ve always used it to refer to people who advocate for actions to combat global warming. That doesn’t fit either of your categories. It would have some overlap with your second category, but there are advocates who don’t “lay out the science” in any way, and there are people who do that but don’t advocate for any actions.

  6. Greg Laden, when using pronouns, it helps if you also use antecedents. As it stands, I’m not sure whose name is supposedly being misspelled.

    Could you clarify your comment? I checked the post and didn’t see any spelling errors, but I may have missed something.

  7. I guess I’m just not used to people posting comments solely to insult someone.

    Oh Wow! It’s hard to believe BS* hasn’t noticed that he’s authored 8 posts since April 17 solely to insult Richard Tol! The hubris, it hurts!

    *unintentional but appropriate, mind

  8. Gras Albert, I haven’t made a single post to insult Richard Tol. Disagreeing with or criticizing a person is not the same as insulting them. I’ve posted surprisingly few (perhaps even no) insults regarding Tol.

    Even if that weren’t true, my comment specifically refers to comments made solely to insult a person. Even if one feels I’ve insulted Richard Tol in all eight of those posts, it is impossible to argue that’s all those posts did. There is nothing hypocritical about my remark. There is also nothing hubristic about it, but I have no idea why you brought up hubris there. It seems to be a non-sequitur.

    Incidentally, I ask people not to abbreviate my name that way due to the more common meaning of those letters.

  9. Brandon, I apologise for taking your initials in vain, no doubt you’re as bored with the consequences of your parents vision as Bill Lear’s (of 8 track stereo and the Jet fame) daughter Shanda was with her parents vision…

    Perhaps you are holding an economist to standards which are inappropriate when applied outside hard science, best illustrated by a likely apocryphal story

    A successful civil servant economist returned to his Oxford college some 10 years after graduating, his former tutor welcomed him to a familiar study and busied himself making his guest cup of tea.

    While looking around the visitor noticed a pile of examination papers awaiting his host’s attention. Giving in to unbearable curiosity he opened one of the papers only to discover that the questions were identical to those he’d answered a decade earlier.

    On his tutor’s return he queried the content of the paper only to receive the response, “It doesn’t matter a jot that the questions are the same as those you sat because all the answers have changed”

  10. Gras Albert, I can’t say I understand your response. You don’t seem to have addressed the issue of you (incorrectly) claiming I’ve written eight posts to insult Richard Tol, nor your implication of hypocrisy on my part.

    As for your suggestion I’m holding Tol to an unreasonable standard, you haven’t pointed to anything in my posts you feel has been unreasonable. I have no idea what standards you think I’m holding Tol to nor why you think they may be unreasonable.

    That said, I can assure you the standards I’ve held Tol to have had nothing to do with differences in scientific fields. The only standards I’ve held him to are ones I’d hold any person to, no matter what sort of analysis they might (or might not) be doing.

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