Responding To Watts About Anonymous Opinions

Anthony WattsSomething I almost always do is to let someone know that I’ve mentioned them in one of my blog post. It’s why I sent my “Anonymous Opinion ‘Not Worth Bucket Of Warm Spit‘” post to Wotts and Watts on Twitter.

And Watts did responds to it with a tweet containing a link to his FAQ page. This is the relevant section from it:

Q. Why do a couple of guest essays have nom de plum names? Aren’t you adamant about people putting their names behind their words?

A. Anyone who publishes on WUWT must be known to the proprietor, and they are all known to me. This requirement is mainly for legal reasons. When running a large enterprise such as this, there may be a legal challenges to writing, and the writer must be held accountable for his/her own words in that case. For the few occasions where somebody wants to publish on WUWT using a nom de plume, the first requirement is full disclosure before publication, and that communications is recorded should there ever be an issue in the furture. Of the nearly 10,000 posts on WUWT, there are just a few that were given the opportunity to publish this way. For good reason, some of those authors fear things like this from activists such as Greenpeace: We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few.

Publishing on WUWT under a nom de plume known to the proprietor is different from anonymous commenters or some of my doppleganger blog children who use the cloak of anonymity to launch personal attacks against me or contributors to WUWT. For example, in a U.S. court of law, the accused is given the right to openly face the accuser(s). WUWT’s author policy of allows for that if need be. With external attackers who claim self righteousness under the cloak of anonymity, not so much.

No, allowing nom de plum names – also known as pseudonyms – for authors of content on your website is not different from anonymous users criticising Watts.

In my previous blog post I referenced the Federalist Papers where I said this:

Through history anonymity was used to enable someone to speak freely and to let people only judge their arguments. Nowadays we know that several of the founding fathers did this with the Federalist Papers.

I referenced the Federalist Papers for a very specific reason, to quote from the Wikipedia article:

At the time of publication the authorship of the articles was a closely guarded secret, though astute observers discerned the identities of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.


The authors used the pseudonym “Publius”, in honor of Roman consul Publius Valerius Publicola.

Like I said discussions and exchanges in the context of climate science are often very nasty. And anonymity can help you shield your private and professional life from it. I fully agree with Watts on this as an acceptable use for anonymity.

But that doesn’t make contributors any less anonymous for the rest of the world if Watts knows their real identities. That’s why I said that “as far as I can tell the real identities of these people aren’t publicly known” when referring to these contributors. As I already knew that Watts has their real identities.

I have friends that are also anonymous – often for very good reasons – who have trusted me with their real identities and contact details. Some of the content on this very website I created while collaborating with them. But me knowing their names does not make them any less anonymous to the world.

That’s why I was so critical about what Watts said about his opponents being anonymous. If you allow anonymous contributors to criticize people on your blog, please be consistent and allow others do to the same thing towards you.

The problem here seems to be that Watts sees these anonymous critics as attacking him. However, being critical isn’t the same as attacking someone. Especially if done so politely and with a willingness to correct anything that isn’t factually correct or to apologise when you aren’t polite. As Wotts demonstrated with the two tweets he sent to Watts:

If you can find somewhere where I’ve personally attacked you or your commentators I will apologise unreservedly. I don’t mean criticise your views on the science though.

Same goes for me. I have no problem whatsoever to correct statements or apologising if something wasn’t polite. As I’m Dutch I speak my mind and don’t mince words while doing it. But I do make a point of being polite and only addressing the arguments (i.e. not going after the person). Or in this case addressing the consistency of an adopted policy.

All this I indirectly referenced in my previous blog post on this matter. I didn’t completely explain it as I thought it wasn’t necessary to get my point across. But it seems best that I should do this in the future to prevent misunderstandings.

But unfortunately I won’t be able to engage Watts any more on Twitter as he has blocked me. As far as I can tell the last straw for him was me being critical about his usage of Alexa internet traffic statistics. Considering I work in IT I have some very good reasons for being dismissive about any conclusions based on those statistics, but that’s a different blog post.

I just don’t understand why polite outspoken criticism isn’t appreciated by those that have no qualms whatsoever to be very blunt towards opponents (and that’s putting it mildly). Yes, I’m direct and I can come across as blunt on Twitter (thanks to the 140 character limit). But I do not understand why for example James Delingpole, and now Watts, take offence to that.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.