Responding To CriticismBy Collin Maessen on comment
I’ve always liked getting comments with feedback, criticism, or that give interesting commentary. It has helped me learn new things, hone my position, and helps me correct statements. It also acts as a great source for inspiration for new blog posts.
As long as you abide by some simple rules everyone is welcome to engage me on YouTube and my blog. It’s the reason why my comment sections are filled with critical comments and my responses and/or corrections to those comments. I especially appreciate feedback that points out a statement that isn’t correct, because they help me weed out incorrect positions and prevents me from inadvertently spreading incorrect information.
Which brings me to the criticism I received from Brandon Shollenberger (archived here) on my blog post ‘The 97% Climate Science Consensus Reality‘. Like I said I don’t mind criticism, but I can have an issue with how you give criticism. I already had an issue with how he engaged me because of how he started the blog post with his criticism (bolding mine):
A few hours ago, I submitted a comment to Collin Maessen’s blog regarding this post. It hasn’t appeared yet. I don’t know if it ever will. Rather than wait, I’m posting it here. I’m doing so primarily because I made the comment at the behest of Andy Skuce (who I had been having an exchange with on Twitter). I’d like him to be able to read it even if Collin Maessen’s blog is unwilling to have simple criticisms posted.
When someone comments on my blog for the first time their comment is held for moderation. I do this to stop any spam that might slip through my spam filter and to check if a new commenter is playing within the rules that I have. Sometimes it can take a while before a comment is approved because of something as simple as me sleeping. Unfortunately this time something went wrong and his comment was never received by my blog. I did however receive the ping back from his blog post and I approved it (I did offer him the opportunity to resubmit his comment).
The issue I have with what Schollenberg said is that it insinuates that I might not publish criticism on my blog. But I already mentioned that there are plenty of examples of me allowing civil and constructive criticism on my blog and YouTube Channel. However, there are better and more civil ways of saying that you’re also publishing critical comment on your blog than saying “I’d like him [Andy Skuce] to be able to read it even if Collin Maessen’s blog is unwilling to have simple criticisms posted.”
Of course I will object to phrasing it in such a way when there’s more than enough evidence showing that I do allow criticism. Schollenberg did acknowledge that how he wrote it would sound like my blog engages in censorship. But to me he come across as quite dismissive about me not liking his phrasing. This already didn’t set a nice tone for the exchange between us.
There’s also a second exchange that didn’t help the tone of our discussion. It was me misunderstanding what Schollenberg meant when he put the word lied between double quotes. I thought he was accusing me of lying (I’ll get to what this is about in a moment). When I complained about it he told me that’s not what he meant as he put it in quotes to denote a non-standard usage. As I was taught that you use single quotes for this I responded with “normally you use single quotes for non-standard usage of words, double quotes has a very different meaning. But if you meant a non-standard usage then I’ll withdraw my objection.”
Perfectly reasonable and polite response, I had completely forgotten that using a double quote is also a valid usage for this. Simply pointing this out would have made me correct this statement. Yet this is how Schollenberg responded:
This is blatantly untrue. Quotation marks used to signify non-standard usage, commonly termed scare quotes, are not normally indicated via single quotes. Even the simplest of Google searches shows this. For example, Wikipedia makes it abundantly clear double quotation marks are commonly used for scare quotes.
It is undeniable I was using quotation marks to indicate a non-standard usage. There is simply no other possible interpretation that could fit. The only way to deny it is to make things up[.]
This is what I consider engaging someone in bad faith, it assumes that I didn’t make an honest mistake. I correct my stance immediately when I realize that something I said is incorrect. Politely pointing this out to me is more than enough to make me do this and would have received a “d’oh!” response from me. Accusing me of “making things up” isn’t necessary.
Which brings me to the criticism made by Schollenberg:
Dear Collin, given you accuse Anthony Watts of lying, it is reasonable to expect your post to be a paragon of integrity. Instead, it provides an incredibly unfair characterization. Watts says:
As has been previously pointed out on WUWT, when you look at the methodology used to reach that number, the veracity of the result falls apart, badly.
You respond to by flagrantly misrepresenting it. You claim:
No, it doesn’t fall apart. What Watts is referring to is a letter he published on his blog written by Richard Tol. I already have a response to this letter on my website called ‘Cook’s 97% Climate Consensus Paper Doesn’t Crumble Upon Examination‘.
This is untrue. The link Watts provides does not claim Richard Tol showed the Cook et al paper falls apart. Bjørn Lomborg (who the piece is by) specifically discussed problems with Cook et al’s paper. He then quoted Tol as an additional point of discussion. You have taken what was a separate point and falsely claimed it was the only point.
The sentence I wrote indeed didn’t accurately describe the blog post Anthony Watts wrote, which also meant it didn’t accurately describe my response to Watts’ post. In my blog post ‘Cook’s 97% Climate Consensus Paper Doesn’t Crumble Upon Examination‘ I do mention what Lomborg said.
My response was to immediately acknowledge this when I saw the criticism, changed the sentence to include Lomborg, attached an update to my blog post describing the changes, included an apology towards Watts for the inaccuracy, and published an update notification on twitter.
I also expanded the part that I was quoting from my blog post ‘Cook’s 97% Climate Consensus Paper Doesn’t Crumble Upon Examination‘ to include the text that deals with claims made by Lomborg. Which added a link that directly addresses the claims about the Cook et al. paper that abstracts were falsely classified, and that the found consensus includes other positions than only “*dangerous* global warming” (which is in reference to current projections).
The link points to the article ‘97% global warming consensus meets resistance from scientific denialism‘ written by Dana Nuccitelli (lifted as is from his article):
For example, the author of one blog post contacted a handful of scientists whose papers were included in our survey and claimed that we had ‘falsely classified’ their papers. Climate economist Richard Tol echoed the criticism of our paper in this blog post. This particular criticism manages to check off three of the five characteristics of scientific denialism.
Specifically contacting these few scientists is a classic example of cherry picking. Our survey received responses from 1,200 climate researchers; the author of this post carefully selected a few of them who all just happen to be well-known climate ‘skeptics’. It’s also a variant of the fake expert characteristic, as John Cook explained in his textbook with G. Thomas Farmer, Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis.
“A variation of the Fake Expert strategy is to take the handful of remaining dissenting climate scientists and magnify their voices to give the impression of more significant disagreement then there actually is.”
The handful scientists contacted for this blog post are among the less than 3% of climate researchers who dispute human-caused global warming. As a result, the voices of this small minority of ‘skeptics’ are magnified.
Third, this blog post argument is a misrepresentation of our study. The Skeptical Science team categorized the papers based solely on their abstracts, whereas the scientists were asked about the contents of their full papers. We invited the scientific authors to categorize their own papers, so if they responded, their ‘correct’ classifications of the full papers are included in our database. As illustrated in the graphic below, we found the same 97% consensus in both the abstracts-only and author self-rating methods.
Another characteristic of movements that deny a consensus involves impossible expectations. The tobacco industry perfected this approach in the 1970s, demanding ever-more stringent levels of proof that smoking caused cancer in order to delay government regulation of their products. This technique of impossible expectations was illustrated in another blog post claiming that only papers which quantify the human contribution to global warming count as endorsing the consensus. Most climate-related research doesn’t quantify how much global warming humans are causing, especially in the abstract; there’s simply no reason to.
We didn’t expect scientists to go into nitty gritty detail about settled science in the valuable real estate of the abstract (the short summary at the start of the paper). However, we did expect to see it more often in the full paper, and that’s exactly what we observed. When scientists were asked to rate the level of endorsement of their own papers, in the 237 papers that actually specified the proportion of human-caused global warming, over 96% agreed that humans have caused more than half of the recent global warming.
This is my standard response and procedure when I receive valid criticism. If I remember it correctly it was about half an hour after I woke up that all this was done. Considering the changes I made and how fast I did this the following response from Schollenberg confounds me:
Dear Collin Maessen, I’ve read the update to your post, and I don’t see how it addresses anything I said in any meaningful sense. As far as I can see, the change to your post does nothing to address the fact your “rebuttal” is a total non-sequitur to what Watts said. Nothing in your changes addresses the fact Watts relies on the claim Cook et al’s analysis fails because it conflates support for the notion humans cause some amount of global warming with the notion humans have caused most (and perhaps dangerous) global warming.
Right or wrong, Watts’s argument is incredibly simple. There is no reason it should not be addressed in a straightforward manner.
I really don’t know how to respond to this. That very point is mentioned in the Cook et al. paper (in the methodology section) and Nuccitelli explained it further in his article. Both I linked to in my blog post ‘The 97% Climate Science Consensus Reality‘.
The tone after this really went down hill with Schollenberg repeatedly saying I’m “making things up” and saying that “it says something about you if you’d claim people are wrong based upon a total fabrication.” He even went as far as saying that my incorrect description meant I had ‘lied’ as much as Watts with his incorrect claim that “the ‘97% consensus’ was a survey of the SkS raters’ beliefs and interpretations, rather than a survey of the authors opinions of their own science abstracts.” But the authors were asked to rate their own papers, a detail that is already mentioned in the abstract of Cook et al. (please read ‘The 97% Climate Science Consensus Reality‘ for the full context).
But saying that Watts made a mistake assumes that he doesn’t read what he cites, doesn’t read the blog posts published on his website, doesn’t read the comments, doesn’t read the criticism towards him about the Cook et al. paper, and that nobody has ever mentioned this to him. Watts never apologized for it or withdrew this incorrect statement. These assumptions also paint Watts as being incompetent, which I find hard to believe as he isn’t an idiot or stupid. That’s why I said that I thought that he had lied.
My incorrect description of a post published on WUWT and the measures I took to correct this description doesn’t even come close to what Watts did. How Schollenberger responded to my correction and how he further engaged me led to me eventually becoming testy with him. Something I shouldn’t have done, but even I have my limits (which I reached earlier thanks to me being tired and not feeling well).
When you give criticism how you approach someone and the words you use and don’t use truly matter. It’s why I focus on the arguments, not the person. Normally I don’t say someone is lying like I did with Watts. But the false accusation Watts made was so wrong that I interpret it as him lying. If Watts makes a public statement that shows my interpretation isn’t correct, I’ll change it.
How I was approached by Schollenberg wasn’t pleasant and not a correct way of handling the situation. I’ve now experienced these more vitriolic responses more often. It’s because of those responses that I’m getting a better appreciation why people respond like they do towards the so-called sceptics and climate science deniers.
I think that next time I receive criticism with the same tone that I’ll just take in the valid criticism and go through my usual procedures, but that I don’t engage. I don’t want this to change my behaviour to a more unpleasant stance, as that isn’t fair to those that do interact with me in a pleasant way.
Update 2014-02-01 @ 6:53:
Minor textual edits to improve flow of the text.
Well, I’ve tried having discussions with Brandon Schollenberg and it, sadly, seems rather pointless. He seems to have a habit of picking up on some detail that he will claim you’ve got wrong. Quite often it will be the use of a particular word which he will then claim you’ve used incorrectly and that you should have used a different word, or that the word you’ve used doesn’t mean what you meant it to mean. Or, as he seems to have done here, he’ll pick up on some detail of a comment and claim that, strictly speaking, you’ve mis-represented someone or something. It’s pedantry at its worst. Also, actually agreeing with him doesn’t help because there’ll still be something in what you’ve said that’s wrong.
I suspect he’ll read this comment and complain that I’ve mis-represented what he’s said or done in the past. Just to be clear, this is my opinion of what Brandon does, so he’s welcome to prove me wrong by not doing this.
To be fair he did have a point with me not correctly describing the post over at WUWT (which also meant I didn’t describe my response to that post correctly). Hence I changed how I worded it, which should have been the end of that particular discussion. Especially as I did deal with points Lomborg raised in my blog post that I linked to.
But how he responded to my correction which addressed the two main issues he had completely confounds me. Especially him saying that I had “flagrantly misrepresented [my] source”, which according him is the same as what Watts did.
I also found his way of engaging me not entirely pleasant. I already had shown that I do not mind to either change my position or withdraw what I say when it was obviously a misunderstanding. Yet every time there is a misunderstanding, or it’s not directly clear what I’m referencing, he accuses me of making things up…
So I can understand the impression that he left with you.
Collin, yes I think my last paragraph was somewhat passive aggressive. You’re welcome to remove it.
In fairness to Brandon, it’s not that he’s always wrong or always unpleasant, it’s that it’s probably – as you say – how he responds to what you do as a result of his criticism. On one occasion, I got the impression that the only thing that would be satisfactory would be to go back in time and not do it in the first place. I have no real problem with someone correcting what I do or say, or suggesting that I’m wrong about something. Sometimes, however, it’s them who’ve misunderstood what I was saying. This could be my fault for not saying it clearly enough, which is hard to fix on Twitter, and sometimes I disagree with them – which is also not fundamentally wrong.
For the record, all I’ve ever expected you to do wottsupwiththatblog is, when agreeing you were wrong on a point, to also acknowledge you were wrong in your defenses of that point – especially that the insults you threw out during those defenses were.
Saying, “Okay, fine, I was wrong about X” doesn’t resolve things if points J, K and L you raised while arguing about X were also wrong. It certainly does resolve things if insults M and N were based upon J, K and L.
Aside from that expectation, which I think is reasonable, the most I’ve ever hoped for is that you’d apologize for insulting me over something you were wrong on.
This “rebuttal” doesn’t rebut anything. Cook et al found a consensus that humans cause some amount of global warming. That’s a position lukewarmers and skeptics agree to. In fact, it’s a position every person who doesn’t deny the greenhouse effect agrees to.* That includes Roy Spencer, Richard Lindzen, Anthony Watts, and even Christopher Monckton. Every one of those acknowledges humans cause some amount of global warming. This consensus covers both statements like:
That is why Cook et al’s analysis falls apart. Skeptical Science describes their work as showing there’s a meaningful consensus. It freely promotes descriptions of their work which says it shows a consensus humans cause most global warming. It even promotes a tweet it says was from the president (it wasn’t actually from the president) that claims their study:
The idea 97% of scientists agree there is a greenhouse effect is unremarkable. It tells us nothing of value. That’s why Cook et al’s analysis falls apart. They find a consensus on an incredibly weak position, and somehow that turns into a media campaign which says they found a consensus for a far stronger position.
Put simply, you cannot take a claim humans cause some amount of global warming as showing evidence there’s a consensus humans cause most global warming. That’s what the Skeptical Science team has done.
*Unless there are people who believe in the greenhouse effect but feel negative feedback will completely cancel it out.
This is the final time I’m going to respond to your point about that “Cook et al found a consensus that humans cause some amount of global warming” as I directly quote Nuccitelli on this:
Which is, if I’m not mistaken, an expanded version of the following line from the Cook et al. paper in the section “3.2. Endorsement percentages from self-ratings”:
So yes I did address that point with what I linked to. You’re focussing on one part of the paper without taking this into consideration. Or the other results they found about the consensus in the literature.
This is post is also not intended as a rebuttal but my opinion on what happened and as a detailed explanation towards you.
Brandon, our host highlights the problem. Firstly, I don’t actually remember making any particular insults when discussing things with you. Some of our discussions were feisty, but that’s not the same as them being insulting. Also, being critical of someone (as you seem quite comfortable being) is not the same as being insulting. Certainly if you could point to a definite insult, I’d happily apologise. Additionally, if one side does acknowledge that maybe the other side does indeed have a point, it’s normally reasonable for the other side to then acknowledge that, rather than pressing the point further until you’ve battered the other side into submission.
In an attempt to say something positive, I will add that some of our discussions have been interesting. Furthermore, I don’t think I can fault you on your attempts at honesty. You do seem quite comfortable challenging people on both sides of the debate. As someone who has been involved in discussions with you, however, my opinion is that you could engage more constructively if you were able to recognise when a point has been acknowledged and that pushing things further may gain nothing. Also, sometimes you should consider that maybe you aren’t correct.
Similar bad experiences from my side. Similar pattern in the “exchange”, similar unreasonableness, similar picking on inconsequential details, similar trying to escalate the situation with excessive bad faith and by playing the person.
Agree that the best way to handle him is probably to ignore him.
Note that I have yet to see a single climate contrarian even acknowledge the fact that 96% of self-rated papers quantifying the human contribution to global warming put it at over 50%. I’ve made this point numerous times (Collin has repeatedly linked to one example), but people like Brandon, Watts, and Spencer (and many others) continue to claim that they would be captured in “the consensus” by our definition.
First of all that’s factually untrue in Spencer’s case. We rated 1 of his papers in the less than 3% minimizing AGW (the other 4 were rated ‘no opinion’), as I pointed out here:
So for Spencer to claim “I’m in the 97%” is just factually wrong. But on top of that he and other contrarians certainly aren’t in the 96% of publishing climate scientists who say humans are the primary cause of the current global warming. We used multiple definitions of ‘consensus’, one being simply ‘humans are causing global warming’ and another being ‘humans are the main cause of global warming’.
What Wotts discusses I describe as ‘point scoring’ and is common among contrarians. Lucia for example loves to jump all over little semantics mistakes when the underlying point being made remains entirely valid. That way they ‘score points’ without having to make valid substantive arguments.
Dana, I don’t know if you consider me a “climate contrarian,” but I freely acknowledge that point. Similarly, I freely acknowledge that percentage is 87% for the abstracts. However, neither of these values are values touted for your paper. Your paper claimed its consensus stemmed from ~4,000 abstracts and ~1,200 papers (these being the ones which took a position). Those percentages are based on 74 abstracts and 237 papers.
It is undeniable the consensus discussed in your paper was said to be the one found within ~4,000 abstracts and ~1,200 papers. As such, it is perfectly reasonable for people to say whether or not they would fit within that consensus. That consensus was merely that humans cause some amount of global warming. Watts, Spencer and I would all fit within a consensus measured by that standard.
Now then, if you want to say we would not fit within other measures of consensus, you can. You say “you used multiple definitions of ‘consensus.’” If that’s true, it is perfectly possible for people to fit one definition but not another. It is possible for Spencer to be in one of your consensuses but not the other. If he is, it’d be perfectly reasonable for him to say he is part of the consensus. The paper never clearly says it examined multiple consensus views, and none of the PR for the paper delineates such.
Perhaps Roy Spencer should say he is in “a consensus” instead of “the consensus,” but if he should make that distinction, so should everybody else.
“That consensus was merely that humans cause some amount of global warming. Watts, Spencer and I would all fit within a consensus measured by that standard.”
No, that’s wrong.
As I already said, Spencer was in the less than 3%, not the 97%. This isn’t some abstract question ‘gee, I wonder where Spencer would go?’. He is in the < 3%. Period. End of story.
The point you (and he, and others) continue to miss is that the < 3% includes papers that minimize the human influence (implicitly or explicitly). That's why Spencer is in that category. I don't care where he believes he should go based on a misunderstanding of our paper and categories. He is in the < 3%.
That’s something I indeed also noticed about the statements made about the Cook et al. paper. I’m not sure if this is because they haven’t noticed it (with them mostly focussing on other parts), or that they are ignoring this part of the paper. Although I am curious as to what a “climate contrarian” would say about it.
My apologies to the host. I’m not used to a blog requiring people provide references as strictly as it does here. As such, I will refrain from disputing what people have said about my past behavior. Instead, I’ll merely challenge them to provide evidence for it. I think the evidence (or lack thereof) will show my challenge to their depictions as well as anything I could say.
Specifically, wottsupwiththat, please show evidence for this claim:
Please show where agreeing with me hasn’t helped. Mind you, helping does not mean everything must be settled.
Victor Venema, please show evidence of there being a:
Specifically, please show how I have acted in bad faith (or if it’s what you meant, accusing people of bad faith) in past exchanges with you.
By the way, please feel free to delete my comments which have been edited out for moderation purposes. I’ve seen the moderation notes, and there’s no need to clutter the thread with them if you don’t want to.
Brandon, okay I will retract that as I did make it sounds like a statement, rather than an opinion. It was an opinion, but – as such – it’s based only on a few exchanges so it isn’t really fair for me to claim it as a reasonable characterisation.
Brandon, judging by the fact that your comment has been moderated, I assume you’re not that happy with my response. I’m not really sure what else I’m meant to say. My impression, after a few discussion with you, was that even agreeing with you did not seem to moderate the discussion in any significant way. It’s just my impression and so could indeed be wrong, and may not be a fair reflection of how you normally engage in discussions. I can’t, however, change the impression that I got from our discussions.
“Thanks for telling us you have such low standards.”
“Victor Venema, to be frank, I don’t think you’re telling the truth.”
That is all the interaction I want to have with Schollenberger. If it is not sufficiently detailed, feel free to delete my previous comment.
The first quote says nothing about bad faith. It does not indicate bad faith on my part nor does it accuse you of bad faith. People can have low standards.
The second quote merely indicates I didn’t believe you were telling the truth. I’m assuming this is meant as an example of me accusing you of bad faith. It is not. People fail to tell the truth for many reasons. There are even guides like, “How to Not Tell the Truth Without Lying.”
In any event, telling a person you do not believe them is not an accusation of bad faith. It’s little different than being skeptical of a scientific theory – not believing something is a far cry from saying it is wrong.
wottsupwiththat, as you did not retract your description of me save to say it is merely an opinion, I am asking for evidence to justify that opinion. I do not believe you have the right to paint people in a negative light here without justifying your portrayal.
Brandon, see my comment above. I’d hoped that retracting my comment would be enough. It appears that that may not be the case.
I hate to admit it, but I forgot about your post, and tried engaging in a discussion with Brandon today. It didn’t end well.
Well you know the rules here, explain yourself. 😉
Your post largely explains it. I clearly made a mistake in my first comment. Response made it very clear that elaborating and explaining what I was getting at was not going to help. Getting out of the discussion unscathed was also not possible. My own fault really. Should have known better.