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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The following is a copy of a rather substantial comment at Skeptical Science:

It turn's out that Shollenberger has had his post published at WUWT, and asked his question (with no reply).  His article takes exception to three quotes in Lewandowsky et al 2013.  Just three!  Out of thirty-two!  Here we where hoping for criticism on substantive issues, but as we expected, given Shollenburger's form, he focussed on trivial weak points because he knows any attempt at substantive critique will fail.  Indeed, so unsure is he of the possibility of substantive critique that when alluding to the possibility substantive critique, he merely mentions that others "have taken issue" with aspects of the paper - no link, and no endorsement.  It is like criticizing AGW by noting that the skydragon crowd "have taken issue" with the greenhouse effect while firmly believing that the skydragon crowd are wrong.
Shollenberger, it you have a substantive critique to make - make it!  The longer you dance around the issue the clearer it becomes that you know that the paper is substantively correct.
But am I being unfair?  Shollenberger certainly begins by suggesting the three alleged misquotes are substantive issues.  He (or Watts) provides an abstract for his post which reads:
"Fabricated quotes and gross distortions are used to paint skeptics as conspiracy nuts.  The question is, is it a conspiracy, or is it just incompetence?"
Later, he writes,
"People have taken issue with a number of aspects of the paper, but to my knowledge, nobody has noticed Lewandowsky and Cook fabricate things in their paper.  That’s right.  They make things up."
Being generous, it appears to have escaped Shollenberger's attention that he has already answered the question in the abstract.  Specifically, to "fabricate" something is always an intentional act - by definition.  By saying that Lewandowsky et al "fabricated" things, he says they acted deliberately to construct them.  That is odd, of course, because Shollenberger later disavows the possibility that the "fabrication" and "deception" could be deliberate, so he contradicts himself.
Shollenberger, therefore, owes Lewandowsky, and Cook, and their fellow authors an apology - and he needs to delete any refference to fabrication from his article.
Indeed, I would go further.  There is no suggestion by Shollenberger that the alleged misquotes may not be willful deception (apart from the dog whistle in the abstract).  On the contrary, he continuously reffers to Lewandowsky et al's acts in active terms, strongly suggesting willful acts.  Only in the final paragraph does he finally say,
"And for the record, I don’t think any of this was intentional."
It is almost as though he is aware of the "familiarity backfire effect" and is taking deliberate advantage of it to spread FUD, while maintaining plausible deniability.  If that was his intention, it certainly workd at WUWT with a number of commentors finding it utterly unbelievable that the alleged misquotes where not deliberate (giving us yet anothe recursion on AGW skeptics love of conspiratorial tropes).  Perhaps, however, it was not deliberate and Shollenberger was merely incompetent.
What, however, of the alleged misquotes.  In the first, a quote from Foxgoose is presented as alleging that no humans took the survey for Lewandowsky et al, 2012, whereas he actually alleged that no "skeptical" bloggers where contacted by Lewandowsky.  This is actually a misquote.  However, the meaning of Foxgoose is far  from clear, even in context.  Indeed, Shollenberger, having quoted Foxgoose in full, finds it necessary to refer to the original discussion for further context to show that it is a misquote.  Even that further context, involving as it does a comment by Eli Rabbet, is far from clear.  The most probable cause of the misquote is simple misunderstanding of Foxgoose's intentions.  That, however, is portrayed in terms only appropriate when discussing deliberate deception, despite, purportedly, Shollenberger believing it was no such thing.
(As an aside, I do remember some coments to the effect that the survey results for Lewandowsky 2012 were entirely manufactured, so while few "skeptics" where that extreme, it was not (contrary to Shollenberger) a "fabricated" belief.)
The second alleged misquote is an example of quotation out of context.  Lewandowsky 2013 discuss a conspiracy theory that "Shaping Tommorrow's World" (Lewandowsky's blog) had selectively barred access to the site to certain people, with the intention of then permitting access when the purported selective barring was commented on to "prove" the conspiracist thinking.  As it happens, nobody was selectively barred and the conspiracist thinking was self generated.  Nathan Kurz applauds the machiavelian ellegance of such a device, if true; but then goes on to disagree with the theory.
Lewandowsky et al only quote Kurz as applauding the elegance of the alleged strategy.  They do not say that Kurz actually agrees with the quote.  Indeed, there primary point may be the point curiously not stated by Kurz.  If, as Kurz states, "there is no way for anyone to complain [about the alleged strategy] without matching the stereotypical conspiracist of the study"; and the allegations of strategy where false as Kurz maintained, and people were complaining, then they were acting just like the "the stereotypical conspiracist of the study".  That logic was, of course, the key point of Lewandowsky et al's discussion of the allegations of deliberate blocking.
Because of this, I was at first unsure whether I should even call this a misquote.  But the cardinal rule of quotation is that if the quote without context could lead to mistaken beliefs about the quoted persons beliefs, a clarrification is in order.  Regardless of whether or not Lewandowsky et al intended people to believe that Kurz agreed with the alleged conspiracy (and it is highly dubious that they did), they should have included a simple disclaimer indicating that he did not.
This is then IMO, an example of inadvertent quotation out of context.  It is not, and contrary to Shollenberger a "blatant" distortion of the quote.  It is only such a distortion if Lewandowsky et al intended for people to believe that Kurz himself agreed with the conspiracy theory.
In the third case, Lewandowsky et al do not distinguish between words quoted by the person they are quoting, and those he wrote himself.  This is unquestionably a misquote, apparently brought about by dropping formating.  (The quote was only indicated in the original source by indentation, and not, as it should be, enclosed in inverted commas.  Geoff Chambers, the person quoted by Lewandowsky et al, did indicate the source of his quote, but in a manner indistinguishable from the standard method of indicating the person to whom you are repplying in non-nested comments.)
Shollenberger finds something far worse here.  He accuses Lewandowsky et al of fabricating the quote, whereas, all that happened was an indent was dropped.  He further accuses them of siting an inaccessible source, saying:
"As though that wasn’t bad enough, neither comment can be viewed by readers of the paper as the comments were both edited/deleted by moderators of the site associated with two primary authors of this paper!" 
In fact, the post quoted by Chambers has been deleted from the site, and hence is inaccessible, except, possibly to moderators of the site.  Chamber's post has also been moderated, but it took me 5 seconds to find the full quote on the linked site and to identify that all the words quoted from Chamber's post came from that post without alteration, but with a html block quote command dropped.  And, I do not have any privileged access to that site.
To sum up, Shollenberger does identify three genuine misquotes.  As such, the authors of Lewandowsky 2013 should issue a correction for the paper to avoid inadvertently misleading people.  Ideally they should also explain how the misquotes occurred so that we can be reassured they will not reccure in the future.  But Shollenberger has still not identified any substantive issue.  The first quote is a side reference and has no relevance to the substance of the paper.  The second quote, if the context is established, merely shows the logic of their argument at that point was transparent and agreed to by a (presumed) AGW "skeptic".  The third misquote, if corrected, merely shows that, not one, but two people found plausible an utterly inplausible conspiracy theory about Lewandowsky 2012.  In identifying the misquotes, Shollenberger in no way builds towards a substantive critique of the paper.  He merely resorts, yet again, to the chewbacca defense.

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