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Behind the scenes at Skeptical Science

Apparently someone has obtained a behind-the-scenes look at Skeptical Science. There was apparently a security hole in their internal forum.

Details here.

(H/T Shub)

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Reader Comments (326)

Is this the same Hengist who posted at the Guardian that Man is responsible for over 100% of the current warming.

Says it all really LOL

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air


Quote "Once again you demonstrate your inability to offer a non-partisan commentary."

Have a look at your own useless blog and then consider tea pots, kettles and black. Laughable Hengist.

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper

Quote of the day

'As an SkS user Im affected '

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:31 PM | Registered CommenterPharos


How was it hacked? What method did they use?

I know for certain that one lot of files the "hacker" pointed to were on the SKS website. Those files where not hacked, they were not even leaked, they where made available by SKS. It might not have been their intention to make the files available but nevertheless they did.

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

@Breath of Fresh Air

I believe I quoted the opening passage of a blogpost complete with suitable caveats which you seem to have forgotten

"A growing body of research is showing that humans are likely causing more than 100% of global warming: without our influences on the climate, the planet would actually be cooling slightly."

The blogpost is at

Id be interested in seeing a rebuttal.

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

Hengist, re: "beyond that I'm not interested"

Yes, exactly, thank you for confirming to all in your own words, that you have no interest in engagement in rational dialogue here. My point exactly, and your confirmation is appreciated.

You are the epitome of a web "troll" interested only in diversion, distraction, and propaganda.

I happen to find you entertaining even if unintentionally so.

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:39 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Hmmm, seems you have trouble with uncertainty if you regard a probability as a known certainty.
Still, maybe the consensus view is that you have not met the poster so that must be alright.

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterArgusfreak

GAWD! Hengist is in rare form!

Bishop I was right, you posted this just to watch the poor man wind himself up. Very entertaining. Thank you.

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

As an SkS user Im affected ..
Mar 24, 2012 at 8:19 PM | Hengist McStone

May you can get counselling Hengist - or a substitute - a sort of SS methadone?

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:53 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

At the token lay person on here how i see it

It just shows how pofaced serious joyless arrogant smug autocratic and generably miserble the warmist are They just got no sense of humour or fun


Mar 24, 2012 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

No surprize they re concerned they cant connect with the Public

Mar 24, 2012 at 8:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid


For your information there is no functionality on Squarespace that allows premoderation. You will need to apologise publicly for accusing me of premoderating you and also for lying about how I reported Heartland.

You can do this on Twitter if you like, since you will not have access here until you have done so.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:00 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Hengist You should invest in a new keyboard as it appears that the single quote mark (') on your present one is affected. Perhaps you have been posting to SKS too frequently and it got hacked. Or perhaps it caught a virus. You should look into it, you know. Next thing, your shift key will go.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

""A growing body of research is showing that humans are likely causing more than 100% of global warming: without our influences on the climate, the planet would actually be cooling slightly.""

Isn't there something in there that you find troubling?

"... more than 100% ..."

How can that be?

It IS worse than we thought.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

Re: j ferguson

causing more than 100% of global warming

Over a period of time temperatures rise by Y degrees.
Without the human influence then temperatures would have changed by X degrees

Human influence, as a percentage, is therefore 100*(Y-X)/Y

If X is less than zero (that is temperatures would have fallen) then the percentage would be greater than 100%.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

"A growing body of research is showing that humans are likely causing more than 100% of global warming: without our influences on the climate, the planet would actually be cooling slightly."

Why on earth is anyone trying to 'debate' with someone who uses/quotes..whatever the above line.?
I am more than 100% confused about this :)

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered Commentermike williams

Hengist the Horsa in the spotlight. Again!

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:24 PM | Registered CommentersHx


"As an SkS user Im affected by this hack and have had to spend time today changing passwords because my details have apparently been posted online."

Rather than go off the deep end, maybe you ought to reconsider which sites you choose to frequent. Looks like SkS has a security issue and you should be whining over there, not here.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil R

The frenzy shown by Hengist over the mistaken revelation of SkS information is fascinating.

Just look at this, a SkS Firefox addon to reveal sceptical arguments:

So, SkS is part of the Marxist disinformation movement.

[For those who are interested, the fundamental mistakes in the models arose in Manabe and Westerald 1067 who assumed no heat capacity to the earth, i.e. SW comes in then is immediately converted to LW which is emitted according the S-B equation for a BB in a vacuum. Both of these mistakes invalidate all the climate models.]

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

causing more than 100% of global warming

You do it with back radiation and post-modern math. It also helps if you are Harry Potter.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

from the link above from Hengist -

"This new area of research was a hot topic of discussion at AGU, and a phrase that came up many times was “more than 100%”.

"That’s right, humans are probably causing more than 100% of observed global warming. That means that our influences are being offset by natural cooling factors. If we had never started burning fossil fuels, the world would be cooling slightly.

In the long term, oscillations of the Earth’s orbit show that, without human activity, we would be very slowly descending into a new ice age."

Hengist asks - "Id be interested in seeing rebuttal "

no rebuttal from me Hengist but if this true, good.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

Warming good, ice age bad

I don't know if any human activities can forestall the next Ice Age but we should be a lot more concerned about the next Ice Age than about a couple of degrees of warming.

Mar 24, 2012 at 9:54 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

What I find funny is that given the supposed importance of SkS to 'the movement' - surely they could have afforded to actually do a real live security audit on their set up and configuration? They must been really flying by the seat of their collective insecure pants if a backup archive of highly private user information is left out on the open. Its the online security equivalent of walking around with your fly undone!

Mind you, this is actually more common than you would think and is often associated with businesses or organisations with a lot of over confidence and self importance - no eye for detail - which strong security demands 24x7.

Mar 24, 2012 at 10:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterkeith

I found the revelations in the Skeptical Science leak fascinating. Apparently I’m the only one.

The fact that they view Donna Laframboise as their most dangerous opponent is extremely telling. No chat, no irony at No Frakking - just the hard slog of finding things out and incessant prodding at their weak spot - the presentation and interpretation of the science.

I’m bewildered by the reaction from Australian Climate Madness and others that there’s nothing to see here. OK, there’s nothing surprising, nothing we couldn’t have guessed, but look where the revelation leaves Skeptical Science. Any journal publishing their “research” is going to be accused of playing their propaganda game. And if they don’t publish, they look as if their giving in to sceptical pressure. Similar considerations will weigh on the decisions of journalists - they’ll look stupid if they play along uncritically, and cowardly if they don’t.

It’s when you’re victim of an embarrassing leak that you find out who your real friends are - if you have any.

Mar 24, 2012 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

TerryS, That is a very subtle calculation. Are you in tax work?

Mar 25, 2012 at 12:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

Andrew Montford,

I note that Anthony Watts has chosen not to post links to the hacked information. He deserves much credit for taking this stance and the reasons for his decision are obvious.

The zipped file not only includes details of Skeptical Science private forum discussions. It also includes personal details such as email addresses of those registered with the site - information which could be used for other illegal activities by the unscrupulous.

This information was obtained illegally and affects a lot of people (some of them even share your point of view!) who have done nothing wrong apart from having registered with the site.

It does not reflect well on you that you have posted the link. I would ask you to do the decent thing and remove it.

Thank you.

Mar 25, 2012 at 12:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Briscoe

Re: Paul Briscoe

1. What are the details of the alleged hack? It looks more like SKS never secured their "secret" forum. That means this isn't a hack or a leak. It is simply SKS unintentionally putting the information into the public domain. If that occurred in the UK then there would be a distinct possibility that SKS would suffer sanctions under the Data Protection Act.

2. Where has Andrew Montford posted the link? There are a grand total of 2 links in the comments. One of them points to the SKS site and they have full control over who accesses that link. The other points to a file called on a Russian site. The file is NOT a zip file, it is a plain text file that only contains lines with "xxxxx" in them. So what private information is either Andrew Montford or any of the commentators here pointing to?

3. If SKS had the information publicly available via their website without any access control then it is not illegal to download the information. If I remember correctly SCO claimed in their litigation against IBM (or was it Novell) that IBM illegally accessed information on their website that was not protected via any form of access control. The Judge dismissed SCO's arguments.

Finally, it does not reflect well on you to make false allegations against Andrew Montford or the commentators here.

I suggest you apologise.

Mar 25, 2012 at 2:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

With Hengist 'playing a blinder' in his best Actonesque manner and the other terribly-dignified sks-apologists who seem utterly clueless about the difference between a leak, a hack or a plain old-fashioned cock-up, this thread has become 'comedy central' right now; I haven't laughed so much for ages!

Mar 25, 2012 at 2:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Apparently, in their world, there is such a thing as "consensus data". Do they believe that this is intrinsically superior to ordinary plain-vanilla data? Or might it perhaps be similar to "Gleick data"?

Mar 25, 2012 at 2:37 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"There was apparently a security hole in their internal forum."

There's a security hole in every website. How do you think hackers get in?

Oh, and well done for linking to Nelson's post with the file containing personal details. You really are a class act, Montford. At least Anthony Watts has some integrity.

Mar 25, 2012 at 4:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterJ Bowers

A commenter on Shub's blog left a working link to the file
There's not much in the way of personal or sensitive information in this file, from what I can see.

Mar 25, 2012 at 5:32 AM | Registered CommenterAndy Scrase

I'm guessing from Robert, Hengist, Paul Briscoe and now J Bowers comments that SKS followers are simply going to claim that the website was hacked and completely ignore the fact that SKS allowed unfettered access to the information. This is not a hack or a leak, it is SKS disclosing the information.

I am, of course, willing to change my opinion on this should evidence ever be presented detailing how fortress SKS was penetrated.

Mar 25, 2012 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS


It is clear that Anthony Watts disagrees with Mr Montford's judgement on this issue and rather than rushing to defend him you ought to be asking yourself why Watts has taken a different line. You also ought to be asking yourself how you would feel if the boot was on the other foot and it was Mr Montford's private discussions with others and your private details which had been stolen.

As pointed out by one poster at SKS:

"How people treat their opponents is often more telling of their character than how they treat their friends..."

How true!

Mar 25, 2012 at 8:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Briscoe

Re: Paul Briscoe

Please provide details of the alleged hack. What did the so called hacker have to do to gain access?

The only private details I am aware of are the contents of the log files. These files were disclosed by SKS when they did not put any form of access control on them. As I stated in a previous comment, if this occurred in the UK then it would be SKS who would probably be subject to sanctions under the Data Protection Act.

As for the private discussions, I suspect that these were also disclosed by SKS when they failed to put any access control on them. I have no evidence for this part and I am basing my opinion on the fact that SKS had no protection on their log files. Should any evidence be presented that indicates otherwise then I will be happy to change my opinion.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Interesting. But what interests me is the log file containing deleted forum comments (comments.html), and why they were deleted. A lot looks like quite calm objections to points raised on he forum. Stuff that would be discussed and argued about by all sides on a site like this, but there it's been softly and silently vanished away, usually marked as ad hominem.
Well, it's one way of maintaining a consensus.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered Commentermalcolm

Terry S

Have you actually read John Cook's statement over this issue?:

There are times when one has to accept the word of those whose views one opposes and it is clear that John Cook has sound reasons to believe that the information was obtained illegally. That ought to be enough in this case, especially where private information is involved.

I've said my piece now, but the "anything is fair game when it's the other side" attitude only reflects badly on you and thus devalues any truly valid points you may have to make in the future. No apologies for being so pointed!

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Briscoe

"...the fact that SKS allowed unfettered access to the information.
I am, of course, willing to change my opinion on this should evidence ever be presented detailing how fortress SKS was penetrated."

Even though you've made your mind up that SkS allowing unfettered access is "the fact". Hmmmmm....

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterJ Bowers

J Bowers wrote.

I think that fact deserves mention. We are not worthy.


Mar 25, 2012 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterJulian Flood

Re: J Bowers

Even though you've made your mind up that SkS allowing unfettered access is "the fact". Hmmmmm....

Yes. It was the fact. The link provided was which you will notice links to skepticalscience. No password was required. No access control.

SKS have now closed this link.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Skimming through John Cook’s private conversations (as you do) I get the strong impression that his friends are much like many of us here - just people with a strong opinion, and an obsessive belief that their opinion is important. I’d guess that 99.9% of the population would consider both us and them to be totally bonkers.
Many of them can be quite lucid in private, e.g. Andy S:

Consider, also, that the most successful denialist/skeptical blogs (Climate Audit, WUWT, Lucia's, Bishop Hill) are no more part of that conspiratorial effort than SkS is part of the IPCC. Like us, they are run without major outside funding by volunteers who believe what they are saying. [...] the reason we have not convinced the general public that climate change is a big and urgent problem is not because the denial machine is better funded and better organized than we are.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

I bit the bullet and visited SkS. The mission was to find what Heartland documents SkS helped disseminate.

The site has a good search engine. Soon enough -and sure enough- I found this page, entitled Denialgate - Internal Heartland Documents Expose Climate Denial Funding Network. In that page is a link to "Heartland's own budget".

And there, in that budget document, are immensely personal information about Heartland employees such as their names, salaries and the employer's comments on their duties and performances.... un-redacted. Un-fracking-redacted!

How do these people, members of a cult the whole lot of them, have the face to now come demand that the link to a link to a link that ends in a useless file ought to be removed because, you know, it is not nice to release private information?

It is disgusting to release private information, yes. That's why SkS must stop linking to the documents fraudulently obtained from the Heartland, especially those documents that contain employee information.

Then they may feel entitled to whine and whine about privacy.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

I love how we are getting lectured about how it "reflects badly upon you". The deep and honest care shown about the image of this site is touching. We know from another SkS reader on this page how honest they are with their sentiments ;)

I read the Sks statement on the leak/hack expecting to see some background that would give more information. I found the noun "hack" used but no actual expansion on how it took place - phishing, repeat attempt at passwords etc, etc. If it turns out you could download the information from google by typing in a guess of the url then I wouldn't say it is a hack, but I admit that is just my opinion. I'm sure there are different laws in different countries and different punishments - varying from beheading to meh, I guess you can always cherry pick opinion, but why should anyone accept John Cooks opinion on legal matters when there is no further information offered and he is an interested party with every motive to minimise his own liability? ;)

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Consider, also, that the most successful denialist/skeptical blogs (Climate Audit, WUWT, Lucia's, Bishop Hill) are no more part of that conspiratorial effort than SkS is part of the IPCC. Like us, they are run without major outside funding by volunteers who believe what they are saying. [...] the reason we have not convinced the general public that climate change is a big and urgent problem is not because the denial machine is better funded and better organized than we are.

Lovely comment. It is a pity that they only speak honestly to each other and not to the public. That's what Climategate exposed too; scientists saying one thing to each other and something else to the public.

It would go a long way if a few people in the climate doomsday blogosphere had the courage to be as honest as in that comment in public.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

I really should sign in before commenting again. Sorry for the puzzle.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

For those of you who have downloaded the zip file have a look at forum/General Chat/2012-02-16-BIG reminder....html

Here are a few snippets:

We need to make sure that SkS is as secure as possible. There was some talk of archiving a big chuck of the forum off site. Did that ever happen?
I still think it would be wise to seperate this forum from the main site and in some way make it 'secret' or less obvious.
I agree with Paul: Separate the Forum from the rest of SkS.
Given the types of conversations we have here inside the forum, if anyone "unsavory" got access, there is a virtual treasure trove of out of context comments that would look terrible to anyone who didn't care to take the time to find out the context.
Far to similar to the current URL.
If someone knew that a forum existed they might try all the skepticalscience options first.
In any case a domain name is as cheap as chips. A few pounds/dollars a year.
Dana... I think it would be better to use something less logical and therefore more hidden. We should be vetting any new members of the forum very thoroughly. I think there is a fairly large number of people who have access to the forum. We might look at trimming that back to people we're very comfortable with.

From the comments in that thread I can see 2 ways in which the forum posts where obtained.

1. SKS was practising security through obscurity. Somebody downloaded one of the unprotected log files (neither hacked or leaked) and spotted a URL in the log file for the forum. They then simply used the forum URL to read and saved the forums. This is not hacking or leaking.

2. SKS archived the forum and stored the archive in a publicly assessable place so that they, and others, could copy and store the archive. Unfortunately for SKS the URL for this archive would be in the log file so whomever downloaded the log file could then download the archive file. This is not hacking or leaking.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Registered CommenterTerryS

It would be a delight if a dialog could be conducted in the tone of voice of your quote. We need some thoughtful believers here. Whoever wrote that would seem a good choice.

Maybe something good could come of this.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson


It is disgusting to release private information, yes.
I don’t think moralising is helpful. I’m enjoying trawling through other people’s private correspondence, looking for stuff that’s interesting. I’m morally at ease, because I know I’m not out to trash anybody’s reputation or otherwise harm them. The fact that there is no evidence of crimes or skullduggery doesn’t mean that it’s not endlessly fascinating. (Several commenters here get a mention).
One general observation: I see no evidence that they are particularly close to enviro journalists. They use them, value their services, and criticise them when they go off-message, but are not really hand-in-glove (though it’s amusing to see that Monbiot had one of his articles more-or-less ghost-written by the Rapid Response Team).

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

For people struggling to decompress the zip file, use 7zip and the gxost version works.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

j ferguson
On conducting a dialog(ue):
I noticed the email addresses of some people I’ve had energetic (foul-mouthed even) disputes with at CiF. I thought of contacting them to see if any kind of private dialogue would be fruitful - a Christmas Day game of football in Nomansland. This would mean using their private emails which I shouldn’t be looking at, though.
I thought I’d mention it here in case twenty other people all had the same idea. I’d hate to be part of any kind of mass sceptic invasion of anyone’s privacy.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

good idea. It will be interesting to see what their responses might be and whether they would have an interest in coming here. I have the impression that the occasional believers who post here and are not rabid do not get their heads handed to them. I'd love to read dialogue where the arguments are met rather than ignored as they so often are.

There is a fair amount of this along technical lines at Lucia's but all too often one side or the other won't respond in detail to the assertions of the other. There have to be bright, well informed, believers out there, but for some reason we seldom see them.

an opportunity

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

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