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« Politicians are the problem | Main | Accelerating global warming »
Saturday
Mar242012

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 (325)

I haven't read any of the comments apart from those quoted on this thread. What is with all the indignation of comments being revealed that have been posted to a website? Surely people posting comments to a website or blog want their comments to be read by other people. Comparing comments from a public compared to a hidden version of the website helps put things into a better context I would have thought..

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

shub writes "My opinion is that if you admit to the uncertainties publicly, your case will become stronger."

such as the large interval on estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity that are consistent with observation and paleoclimate, or the broad error bars on the projections of future climate made by GCMs? I completely agree. The published scientific litterature is full of discussion of uncertaintes, as is the IPCC report, which has a section devoted to explaining how uncertainty is described in the report in a consistent manner. If there is a particular scientific issue where you feel SkS is underplaying the uncertainty, then do post there to explain your objection. As long as you comply with the comments policy, there will be plenty willing to discuss it with you.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterDikran Marsupial

Dikran, now you are being ridiculous. Posting (real) sceptical points, and arguing their merits, countering the 'debunking attempts' from the scissor-happy moderators, is not possible. Definitely not consistently.

The site and its discussion-threads is entirely dependent on 'editing' the discussion. If you claim the opposite, that it encourages real scientific discussions, you are just wrong.

And you might be aware that all pro-climate-scare sites need heavy handed, one sided 'moderation' to maintain the story they want to tell. And telling a pre-determined story, is just not science. Not anywhere.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonas N

Rob Burton - "What is with all the indignation of comments being revealed that have been posted to a website?"

The 'redacted' files have been modified to show user names (pseudonyms in many cases), email addresses, and IP addresses (i.e., personal details), blending multiple files together. The content, furthermore, includes work in progress, such as authors working on posts, and in some cases peer-reviewed articles still in the submission pipeline (as yet unpublished), being shared among collaborating authors.

Add to that the quote-mining by some people which has been _demonstrated_ in the CRU emails - distorting statements by taking them out of context - and I think the concerns of those whose information and off-the-cuff remarks has been hacked are quite reasonable.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterKR

Dikran, I would start here on uncertainty if you'd like to know why many of us aren't sucker-punched by the illusory impression you give, that uncertainty is well handled by the IPCC and others: http://judithcurry.com/2010/10/17/overconfidence-in-ipccs-detection-and-attribution-part-i/

Most of us, I anticipate, would concur with Curry, that the IPCC handles the reporting of uncertainties very poorly.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

How many more times are the fearmongering warmists going to be exposed in this way? This is a direct repeat of the duplicity exposed by Climategate(s).

The need to have a private forum to discuss how to frame the narrative for public consumption can only conjure visions of criminals concocting a cover story to convince the police that they were nowhere near the bank when the safe was blown. It's not how honest people operate. They have something to hide, so they hide it. Or think they hide it. They think they employ great minds, and are led by professors who cannot operate basic mathematical functions on office software which has been standard issue for well over two decades.

When exposed they lash out with contempt-spewing lectures on 'morality' and still refuse to engage about the validity of the alleged science that they genuflect to.

Two points to consider, warmists, a large number of the contributors on this forum used to be, at least to some degree, supporters of your agenda. Unfortunately for you, when the truth behind your carefully crafted narratives became exposed, and the scientific worthlessness of the works that you STILL defend to this day is plain for anybody with any statistical training whatsoever to see, you lost us. And you will never regain our trust because your methods and activities are fundamentally dishonest. As James Evans so succinctly says, you think we are like you - we are not. There are no secret deceit-narrative generating cabals on this side of the debate. I only contribute here because I am interested in he truth, and my trust has been utterly abused by lying, cheating deceivers who never, ever learn. And don't dare to try picking holes in my scientific credentials - that won't work.

Secondly, putting material on the internet which is not secure has a special word - it's called 'publishing'.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:41 PM | Registered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

I'd like to specifically subscribe to geoffchamber's note above. Share your concerns with us, let us into your deliberations. If you see something you are skeptical of tell us. i think most of us would rather be comfortable that we understand as much of the scope and detail of these things as we are able.

At the same time, those of us who can follow the logic are unimpressed by undetailed attacks on thoughtful well researched analyses, audits if you will, of some portions the paleoclimate literature. There is one early in this thread that identifies a rebuttal of the red noise can produce hockey sticks if subjected to the same analytical techniques used by Mann and others. I found the rebuttal referred to careless and unconvincing. And even guys with impressive credentials and some renown in climate science can still write sloppy, ill-considered reviews.

At the same time, i don't want to be forced to defend some of the skeptic things i see - particularly some (that's some) papers which appear at WUWT, or for that matter some parts of Monckton's talks. He seems to let his vocabulary and wit run away with him, although I am mostly sympathetic to his views, if i understand them.

The meeting of the minds would be at the edges of the things we agree on, likely most of it, save of course policy.

I think I've run well past the end of any contribution i could make to this discussion.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

I disagree with Prof. Curry on this, and found her papers on the topic rather unconvincing. Perhaps that is because I have a background in Bayesian statistics, and so probabilistic statements such as those used by the IPCC seem fairly natural to me. Can you give me a specific example of the sort of statement that you think is poorly expressed, and explain your objection to how it is phrased. I am happy to discuss this, but you need to state the problem in sufficient detail.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterDikran Marsupial

Tom Curtis: "As I understand it, that is the minimum which the hacker may have done, and they may have done much more."

May... could possibly... potentially... strangely familiar language... I wonder why...

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Dikran, I don't disagree with Curry on this. I'm very impressed that you have a background in Bayesian stats. My uncle's a bookie. You'd have much in common with him, I think.

Me, I don't gamble.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

"Moderator Response: [Sph] We are working on a number of things, but there is a lot to do and only so much manpower. This is a 100% volunteer run site, one that generates a lot of posts, works on other efforts, and so on. The programming needed to fix this is not trivial, especially while simultaneously trying to track down the hacker, secure the site and evaluate the dangers of all of the data that was stolen (and please do not for one minute doubt this, we have substantial, irrefutable proof that the entire site was hacked in a way that was not trivial, Any claims that somehow we just left a door open, and someone happened to find stuff, are utterly and completely ludicrous.)"

Looks like the anti-AGW camper's best buddy isn't bona fide science, but thieves and low-life hackers once again. I'm sure yet another zip file's being pored over again, with cherry picking blog posts and books written by ideological no-mark and know-nothing rent-seekers on the way.

Mar 25, 2012 at 9:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJ Bowers

@Simon, very wise, there is only one way to make money out of gambling and that is to own the casino! ;o)

IIRC gambling was a keen interest of the Bernoulli family in the early days of the study of probability.

I just wanted to add that there is a branch of statistics called "computational learning theory" which is about the theory of what can be learned from data in general, and they use a form of statement very similar to the IPCC statements called a "PAC (probably approximately correct) bound", which states the probability (the "probably" bit) that something lies within some interval (the "approximately" bit). CoLT is very much the high end of statistics and I'm sure they wouldn't use such probabilistic statements if there was anything fundamentally wrong with them.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDikran Marsupial

"Looks like the anti-AGW camper's best buddy isn't bona fide science, but thieves and low-life hackers once again. I'm sure yet another zip file's being pored over again, with cherry picking blog posts and books written by ideological no-mark and know-nothing rent-seekers on the way."
Mar 25, 2012 at 9:59 PM | J Bowers

When you write something like that, don't be surprised if folk don't take you seriously.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

If there is a particular scientific issue where you feel SkS is underplaying the uncertainty, then do post there to explain your objection. ...

Dikran,
If I have an objection, say about Antarctic ice, and I wish to discuss the way it is portrayed at Cook's website, I would have to start with objecting the very framing, i.e., 'Antarctic ice increase is a skeptical myth'. That would automatically make me a 'troll', and violate a host of 'policies'.

This is simply because a certain position/stance has been pre-decided on the Antarctic ice topic at the website. So it is, with every conceivable topic in climate change science. There is a range of sceptical/contrary opinions on climate science topics, but the website's position is that all of these, the 'nutty' and the credible ones included, are skeptical 'myths' that need 'debunking'.

This is a structural problem in the website's rhetoric. If you layer on top of this, an arbitrary, inconsistently applied moderation policy, you have on your hands a recipe for shutting down debate, and not one for discussion of uncertainties.

I use the word uncertainty in its non-technical sense.

So, if we turn to the Antarctic ice question and look at the 'intermediate' argument, what I see is a position that Antarctic continental ice is decreasing and that the rate is accelerating. That conclusion cannot be supported by the data presented on the page.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:21 PM | Registered Commentershub

Re J Bowers

we have substantial, irrefutable proof that the entire site was hacked in a way that was not trivial,

Let me hazard a guess that SkS's IT expert referred to earlier is Bostrom, who created the "hackproof" site and off-site backup. If the site isn't running off the backup, then SkS is probably repeating the same mistake Real Climate did when they were hacked. Much evidence gets lost when enthusiastic amateurs decide to play digital detective rather than simply taking the "hacked" server offline and leaving it for a professional forensic examination.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

this is a truly hilarious thread...as far as I can tell, Septic Science has more readers than Bishop Hill and Shub's site put together but they feel the need to boost their profile...so Dikran Marsupial (possibly an assumed name) and the comical J Bowers (when he turns up, you know your cause is in trouble - he is the antithesis of PR) - and Tom "professional astroturfer" Curtis turn up to prolong the thread way beyond the normal length of threads on this site - Hengist having long since given up the fight.

So, we have this long account of how people with email addresses are fatally compromised by some kind of internet event to the extent where Hengist is worried about his safety (as if anyone cares), because somebody has got hold of your email addresses.

And meanwhile, Dikran invites us to discuss the question of sensitivity, which no one can opine upon because no one knows very much about it. James Annan feels that IPCC estimates are too high. Buit since this concept of sensitivity is so badly defined, why debate it. Why not wait for evidence - or would that be acting in a scientific manner?

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Atomic - as soon as J Bowers gets involved, you are in the realms of vintage comedy. Do not ask him questions unless it involves him falling down a flight of stairs.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Just like to add a nod to SayNoToFearmongers' post, above (9:41PM), I was that grass-roots environmentalist. That was until I sought reassurances, post-Climategate, and was immediately labelled a "denier" and had my questions spirited away on blogs/sites like yours. The post-Climategate wagon-circling was damning, because it was more important for you to defend "The Message" than to engage.

I *will not* be lied to. I *will not* subscribe to The Message. I want the truth. And when the Truth is "we don't know", I want to hear that. I will not accept coercion through spin.

SkS is in the business of forming and controlling The Message. The curtain lift over at Tom Nelson's site is a perfect example of spin being moulded into shape, to convey The Message.

As Tallbloke says of the science: "Let the chips fall where they may." If/when the evidence is compelling, I will join with others in facilitating adaptation (or, if it were ever anything but a waste of time) mitigation. But in the intervening time, The Message is no substitute.

You fool yourself into believing that the "well-oiled denier machine" has more success because it has better conveyance; a better and more efficient "message" machine. In fact it is nothing to do with any denier terrorist-style "cell" operation. It is that our currency is The Truth, which will always trump The Message.

Because we're only pushing The Truth, there is no curtain to lift to reveal behind-the-scenes machinations like there is at SkS. The only curtain that was ever lifted on the "well oiled denier machine" - "Fakegate" - only made liars of you by exposing the truth; that the "well-oiled denier machine" is a SkS/Oreskes/Mannian myth.

So, for me at least, engagement is no longer an option. Been there, tried that. I already had good reason to distrust SkS, and this latest episode only goes to further underpin that distrust.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

And there's Diogenes again - the denialists' very own Giles Brandreth.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJ Bowers

Re: Atomic

Let me hazard a guess that SkS's IT expert referred to earlier is Bostrom, who created the "hackproof" site and off-site backup.

Let me hazard another guess (I'll give it a 1/5 chance of being correct). The off-site backup is performed by backing up portions of the site and storing it in a secret area on the website that only Bostrum knows about. The remote site then grabs the files in this area. Since somebody accessed this secret area SKS believes they must have hacked the site.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterTreryS

I have a hypothesis. Bostram's remote site's CRON job couldn't retrieve the content for backup. Bostram adjusted SkS permissions multiple times to find where the problems laid, and failed to roll something back.

I have another hypothesis. Someone forgot to add "WHERE SubforumID=n" to a SQL statement when attempting to make a subforum publicly available.

Now I'm going to run this through my MySQL database as a model a few times, which will naturally prove my hypothesis, thus making it a fact. :)

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

**Sigh** Having problem spelling my name. TreryS = TerryS

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

shub,

It should be possible to address any issue relevant to a SkepticalScience article, provided that you address the evidence.

The structure of the SkepticalScience articles is that they are intended to link as directly as possible to the actual peer-reviewed papers being cited, so that readers can check that the conclusions drawn by the authors of the piece are actually supported by the referenced papers. If you don't agree that the conclusions are properly drawn, you are free to call attention to errors in logic and implication.

Sometimes there are no links when the article is basically a republication of an article by a well-known expert on the specific topic. (I think there should be, but sometimes we are not in a position to insist.)

I cannot guarantee that every remark made by a moderator was done perfectly: Our moderators are unpaid volunteers. I do know that we have had moderation cases where there was some discussion afterwards that something could have been handled better. However, the way the system is set up, it's generally impractical to backtrack and undo the moderation.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered Commenternealjking

However, the way the system is set up, it's generally impractical to backtrack and undo the moderation.

I'd replace impractical with undesirable, to make it more believable. If your interest was fairness and balance rather than The Message, you'd move heaven and earth to make it so. There is a well documented history of comment history revisionism at SkS. We are not amused.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

enjoys the highly substantive reply from Norman J Bowers....how is Mr Grimsdale?....Bowers always insists on derailing the thread.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

I am going to drop out of the discussion at this point, as the discussion is not actually about the science (which is fair enough given the topic). However the offer is still open to anyone who wants to discuss the science via email (dikranmarsupial@gmail.com) and will remain so while the discussion sticks to the science and is good natured. If someone does want to discuss the science at SkS, then as long as you stick to the science and engage with the responses to your questions/comments, then in my experience (I am a volunteer moderator at SkS) posts do not attract the attention of the moderators - it is exactly what we want to encourage!

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterDikran Marsupial

Re Simon Hopkinson

I have my own hypothesis. SkS relies too much on the infalibility of experts :)

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

diogenes, indeed. But little children who seek negative attention only succeed when in the presence of overly-attentive adults.

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Atomic Hairdryer, haha! Indeedy! :)

Mar 25, 2012 at 10:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Dikran

The "stick to the science" is a weasly condition. Because of the (not very scientifically literate) moderators are not trained or well versed in physical or other hard sciences. Because they equate 'science' with 'words found in published articles'. The method then is to demand that criticisms or any objection must be found in a publication, and also that the phrases and sentences found in the pro-AGW publications must be accepted at face value, and cannot be criticized for what they actually claim and for the actual (carried out, and presented real) science they supposedly draw upon says, shows and more importanly: what it doesn't show or support.

This practice comes across as more childish than only naive. Demanding a debate, where only words by others are allowed, and only words that appear in (by one side) accepted publications.

It is rather stupid: It is lika a quarrel among kids claiming 'my dad is stronger than your's, and my link can beat yours, and anyway I have more links than you ... '

It pretty much is the antitheses of a scientific debate. And (as you very much are aware of, and indicate yourself) the 'moderation' and 'rules' are a central part of how SkSc feels it needs to 'debate' ...

You can only impress the faithful with that.

BTW Bayesian statistics, is a major part what is wrong with the IPCC attribution numbers. And the way they (sometimes) use it is even worse .. (but if you're an 'expert, you already knew that, didn't you?)

Mar 25, 2012 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonas N

The reason that there is a SkepticalScience Forum, separate from the SkepticalScience website, is that the articles in the website are collaborative efforts: There may be one or a few authors working on it, but a whole range of other people can view early versions and critique them for appropriateness, accuracy, style, and comprehensibility. Sometimes there are very sharp differences that must be resolved, because of different technical views or philosophical views.

This sort of thing cannot be thrashed out in public; just as the editorial discussions for a magazine are conducted in the discussion room, and kept off the pages of the magazine. So there is nothing very insidious about having a private area: It's just like a prep room or staging area.

Given that the area is private, people will occasionally let loose with jokes or arguments that they might not make in public, where the context cannot be assumed. It is true that you won't find anyone at the SkepticalScience Forum who believes the greenhouse effect doesn't work; or that it's in violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics; or that global warming stopped in 1999; and so on. In order to preserve the freedom of discussion, we'd rather keep our private space private.

That said, from what I have seen, there seems to have been no particular harm done to the enterprise by this break-in, because there is nothing going on that we need to hide. The only real harm is to users' personal information confidentiality, requiring people that have logged onto the SkepticalScience site to change their passwords. I hope this is no more than an annoyance.

With regards to the side issue of whether this really IS a break-in or a leak or misplaced file:
- John Cook has pointed out that the users' information file was re-formatted to make it more intelligible, whereas in the original database, it is not. That can't happen via a misplacement.
- While I have access to the Forum, I have no interest in database matters, and wouldn't know how to leak this stuff (even though I have more than average privileges). More to the point, SkepticalScience is John Cook's website, so no person except him has the right to make this information available. So it can't be a "leak", unless one thinks John Cook is leaking it himself.
- As to it being a self-leak for publicity: I have been seeing John and a few of the more IT-oriented guys working pretty hard to fix things back up in the last few days. It's not plausible that they would do something like this to themselves in order to gain PR: They have plenty of other things to do.

So my conclusion is that it doesn't really make sense except as a break-in/hack.

Mar 25, 2012 at 11:17 PM | Unregistered Commenternealjking

neal
Good comment(s), but ...

with regards to 'the science', as Jonas N points out above, it is to be performed as a living, breathing entity, and not as a kids card-trading exercise or a theological/ecclesiastical dispute.

For eg., take the supposed "There is no consensus" myth topic. The Skepticalscience conclusion is
"97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming."

This is simply wrong. It is false. To publish such a conclusion as a 'debunking' is doubly wrong. Such a conclusion is unsupported by the impressive stack of citations found in the article. You have linked "as directly as possible to the actual peer-reviewed papers being cited", no doubt, but 'linking' doesn't make the case that is made.

Most of the articles are in the same bucket. What are you going to do? Take the "myth" down? I somehow get the impression that Skepticalscience has developed an enormous, collective ego that makes this impossible. The ego is well-deserved as there is a lot of sincere hard work that goes in. But I am afraid they are wasted on weak, pre-determined conclusions. These begin from the starting assumption that skeptics don't have a point and anything they say must automatically be wrong, and the citation-ikebana is carried out from there.

Mar 25, 2012 at 11:54 PM | Registered Commentershub

Re: nealjking

John Cook has pointed out that the users' information file was re-formatted to make it more intelligible, whereas in the original database, it is not. That can't happen via a misplacement.

That did not need to happen on the SkS servers. Whoever obtained the file could have easily reformatted it outside of the SkS servers before packaging it up and distributing it.
- While I have access to the Forum, I have no interest in database matters, and wouldn't know how to leak this stuff (even though I have more than average privileges).

Your lack of knowledge does not mean anything.
More to the point, SkepticalScience is John Cook's website, so no person except him has the right to make this information available. So it can't be a "leak", unless one thinks John Cook is leaking it himself.

If the information was in a publicly accessible area without access control then it has been made publicly available.
As to it being a self-leak for publicity...

After the Gleick débâcle I doubt any site would be so stupid as to do this.

One of the most common misconceptions people have is that if they put documents in a secret area on a website then it will remain secret. This secrecy is very hard to maintain. If, for example, one of your secret pages has an external link in it and you follow that link, then you have just given an external site the location of your secret page. Your secrecy is blown. Another way to give away the secrecy is to make your log files publicly accessible. They contain details of everything.

Mar 25, 2012 at 11:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

The information grabbed from SkS includes the private details of people who occasionally comment there. People like me. Would you like it if your email address and other personal information - and maybe your password, which perhaps you use generally - fell into the hands of a hacker?

Anthony Watts had the decency to keep the information off his website.Too right. In the climate wars, some things are not up for grabs. I don't want to know your personal information either.

I don't care how much people like or dislike SkS. Getting your private information hacked, in any environment, is not a pleasant experience, and noone should tolerate it. Next time it could be you.

Mar 26, 2012 at 12:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterdeliberately anonymous

deliberately anonymous...this commetn of yoursa would have even greater force if you would express how you feel bout the people at Heartland who had personal details publically exposed...(waits for comical J Bowers to explain how the examples are not comparable)

Mar 26, 2012 at 12:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

shub,

The rules of discussion at SkepticalScience are set up because it is the common view of the group involved that the scientists who spend their careers working on specific scientific and technical fields know more about these topics than the ordinary Joe in the street. Therefore, if someone comes in with a notion (like "the greenhouse effect is in violation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics") that is out of line with conventional science, we expect that some evidence should be put on the table. This evidence should at least meet the standard for being presented to the scientific community (i.e., peer-reviewed publication), although that is not a guarantee of quality. The point is that 99% of the people involved with climate blogs are NOT professional researchers in climate science. Therefore, an otherwise unsupported assertion, which is not in line with conventional science, needs some extra support.

I know that someone will want to quote Feynman's famous statement: "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." But remember that Feynman did NOT say: "Science is the belief in the expertise of the ignorant"! Rather, he said, "It's good to keep an OPEN mind - but that's not the same as an EMPTY mind." (And, yes, I heard that from the horse's mouth.) When he encountered someone with wild ideas who could not support them with evidence or solid logic, the fur would fly - and there generally wasn't much left afterwards.

The other aspect of citing a paper for support is to be sure that the idea that you are supporting is actually intended in the article. We have often seen articles that catch fire in the blogosphere for awhile, until it eventually becomes clear that a careful reading of the paper (like, looking at the conclusions) does NOT support the concept which is being promoted in the blogs.

With regards to the 97%: the basic version of the rebuttal doesn't go into detail on where that number comes from: it's just intended to give the message. If you look at the intermediate version (http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus-intermediate.htm), there is a reference to how that number was arrived at, in terms of research methodology.

Mar 26, 2012 at 12:27 AM | Unregistered Commenternealjking

TerryS:

1) "That did not need to happen on the SkS servers. Whoever obtained the file could have easily reformatted it outside of the SkS servers before packaging it up and distributing it."
My point is that the production of that file precludes a simple slip of a link or move of an archive. That file had to have been produced deliberately.

2) "If the information was in a publicly accessible area without access control then it has been made publicly available."
And if you drop your wallet outside the house, it's alright for someone to use your credit cards, right?
But anyway, point 1) already shows that someone did something deliberately. John Cook does not need to re-format that file in order to operate the website.

3) "After the Gleick débâcle I doubt any site would be so stupid as to do this."
We can agree on this.

In fact, we had had several discussions on security measures that should be taken. A couple of the ideas would probably have slowed the hacker down. Unfortunately, they did not receive sufficient priority amongst the other activities of the website to be done earlier.

The bottom line is that the website information floating around has been broken out against the wishes of the only legitimate owner. Even very active folks at the Forum do not usurp John's decision-making authority over such issues.

Mar 26, 2012 at 12:43 AM | Unregistered Commenternealjking

I don't care how much people like or dislike SkS. Getting your private information hacked, in any environment, is not a pleasant experience, and noone should tolerate it. Next time it could be you.

I agree with you, a website upon which you post should do everything necessary to protect your data, and to promptly inform its users of a potential compromise. Cook evidently knew there was a problem quite some time ago, but failed in his duty to inform his user base or to address the issue.

If a website failed in its duty to maintain the optimal standard of security, or if it placed in a public place data which compromised the security of my personal details, I would be pretty annoyed too - as indeed I would be annoyed, were I a board member at Heartland, for not having in place a more rigorous policy, or for failing to effectively enforce an existing policy, designed to protect against wire fraud by unethical types like Gleick.

I do not anticipate SkS admitting an internal failing, even if it resolves that this mess has been caused by internal negligence, because so doing would be admitting a failure in its duty to conform to data protection law. I suspect that among the data which has been downloaded from the SkS website logs directory are less sycophantic users who might not be so sympathetic towards Cook's lax security and his failure to recruit a competent security audit firm when it transpired earlier in the year that, as he himself admits, the task of securing your data was essentially beyond him.

Mar 26, 2012 at 12:49 AM | Registered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Simon Hopkinson,

Seems like you're blaming the victim here. Folks at SkepticalScience Forum had been brainstorming about what steps would be prudent to secure the website. I don't believe that creates a requirement to "do it yesterday".

Mar 26, 2012 at 1:06 AM | Registered Commenternealjking

TerryS:

1) "That did not need to happen on the SkS servers. Whoever obtained the file could have easily reformatted it outside of the SkS servers before packaging it up and distributing it."
My point is that the production of that file precludes a simple slip of a link or move of an archive. That file had to have been produced deliberately. However the files were obtained, the procurer took steps to expose users' personal data.

2) "If the information was in a publicly accessible area without access control then it has been made publicly available."
And if you drop your wallet outside the house, it's alright for someone to use your credit cards, right?
But anyway, point 1) already shows that someone acted deliberately. John Cook does not need to re-format that file in order to operate the website.

3) "After the Gleick débâcle I doubt any site would be so stupid as to do this [leak for PR purposes]."
We can agree on this.

In fact, we had had several discussions on security measures that should be taken. A couple of the ideas would probably have slowed the hacker down. Unfortunately, they did not receive sufficient priority amongst the other activities of the website to be done earlier.

The bottom line is that the website information floating around has been broken out against the wishes of the only legitimate owner. Even very active folks at the Forum do not usurp John's decision-making authority over such issues; not even the group.

Mar 26, 2012 at 1:12 AM | Registered Commenternealjking

Wow! What a thread! It feels like District 9. A giant spaceship is hovering above and aliens are on the loose. The last time we had the courtesy of a visit from planet SkS was when John Cook got caught cooking the books.

I am particularly taken by the frantic efforts of Tom Curtis at moral indignation. He says among many other things (he talks too much) this:

1) You should not link to stolen documents;

2) You should not link to pages that link to the stolen documents;

3) We should not cite the stolen documents directly, but only public discussions of the contents of the documents, and then only from pages that do not link to the documents; and

4) If in doubt as to whether we can discuss some part of the document under these rules, we should not discuss it.

Clearly other members of the SkS team disagreed with me, but as previously noted, we are a cooperative of individuals. They are responsible for their actions, and I am responsible for mine. I certainly hope they can appreciate, and learn from the irony of their position.

Never-the-less, I can with all consistency advise you that the ethical thing to do is to follow the four rules above with relation to the illegally hacked SkS files.

I still haven't downloaded the real SkS files so I have no idea whether Tom Curtis objected to SkS's dissemination of Heartland employees personal information with the same vigour that he opposes the publication of their own.

By his own admission, "other members of SkS team disagreed with me..." and the fraudelently obtained Heartland documents are still clearly linked to by SkS and personal info in those papers remain unredacted.

Now that his objections have been heard, noted and rejected by consensus in this open forum as well, Tom Curtis ought to show us the courtesy of the same cooperation he offers to his team mates, and move on to other things.

Otherwise, well-deserved rumours may spread about his honesty and moral integrity.

Once he's persuaded SkS to remove all the links and posts to the Heartland files, he can return and talk with some consistency.

Mar 26, 2012 at 1:13 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Mar 26, 2012 at 12:06 AM | deliberately anonymous

Don't use the same password for an amateur blog website than you would use for your banking details. The thing the bugs me most (and this happens for all sites) are websites that can email you the password you used. (They should ever,ever,ever know what your cleartext password is, that is IT security point number 1 also.)

Things like email/name and IP address are pretty much public knowledge anyway. I'm pretty sure I never agreed to anything to stop the Bishop giving away my email or the IP I'm posting from so wouldn't actually care if he did it. As to posting to a 'hidden' forum surely all it would take is one 'mole' to repost all of the forum, unless there was some strict sign up agreement that didn't allow this. It's a pubic website, like email you need to accept that it is public knowledge. I'd assume that the comments were going over standard http so all this information is flying in the clear on the internet. If you do IT it is pretty much assumed that anything not over https has to be accepted as pretty public anyway. (If you cared about the info you would secure it in some way.)

Blogs tend to work better when you can be identified rather than anonymous anyway, as you then are at least slightly accountable for what you say (though totally a personal preference, I agree, and I tend to be anonymous if I put my less scientific hat on and talking personal opinion more.)

Mar 26, 2012 at 2:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

shub, 11:54:

(This comment got lost earlier)

The folks at Skeptical Science are of the general opinion that the people who understand the science the best are the folks who devote their careers to it: They get all the background training, they work with the methods and evidence every day, and they keep up with what other people are doing. Science is a meritocracy: The people who can consistently show that their understanding is deeper and broader than others gain in stature and become leaders in the field.

I know someone will want to quote Feynman: "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." True enough - but note that Feynman did NOT say: "Science is the belief in the expertise of the ignorant." Indeed, one of his less elegant but just as insightful remarks was: "It's good to keep an OPEN mind - but not an EMPTY mind." (And, yes, I heard this from the horse's mouth.)

So the point is that it does matter if 97%, as opposed to 35% or 50%, of the experts in the field agree on what is going on: It suggests very strongly that the truth lies in the direction that the overwhelming majority agree upon. (If it were a matter of your health, and 9 doctors told you procedure A was better, and 1 said procedure B, would you lean towards A or B?)

Second is the question of how the 97% is determined. The basic version of the Skeptical Science article just states the %age, but if you look at the intermediate version (at http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus-intermediate.htm ), you find an explanation of the methodology by which this 97% was determined, and reference to the study itself.

In this case, since this is a result of library research, you have to go back to the original study (Oreskes, I believe): There is no mathematical formula or magical intuition that gives any guidance to the number without looking at the articles, as Oreskes did.

In general, if you want to challenge an article, that is very welcome, if you want to engage the material. If you want to argue the physics of the greenhouse effect, there are people who are willing to do that; but keep in mind that technical topics can only be resolved within their own scope. Arguments about radiative transfer theory are not going to be resolved by analogies; arguments about thermodynamics are not going to be resolved by word-play.

Mar 26, 2012 at 2:54 AM | Registered Commenternealjking

Again neal, a very well-worded comment, but you missed the point.

Skepticalscience says: "97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming." It feeds the masses this conclusion as though it were popcorn. But the conclusion is wrong, and it is unsupported by the citations provided.

My guess is that the author 'simplified' the 'message' so that it can be 'communicated' better and made it punchier, but unfortunately that made it wrong as well.

If you ask my opinion, an assessment can be made, as to what supportable pithy statement can truly be written from the conclusions of Oreskes, Doran, Anderegg and other allied papers. It most certainly won't be anything saleable as a debunking of a supposed myth.

Mar 26, 2012 at 3:23 AM | Registered Commentershub

Hengist,

I don't have time to read 240+ comments. How do you know it was a hack and YOUR information, and others, including your password was posted online?? In other words, where can I look to see this "evidence" of a HACK rather than a mistake by SKS that allowed a particular area to be read that should have been secure?? Being an IT professional I know it is extremely rare now a days for a password file to be available without extensive processing to decode it with very sophisticated software and supercomputers. Or, are you saying they are using 1970's or older encryption??

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Mar 26, 2012 at 3:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterKuhnKat

"this commetn of yoursa would have even greater force if you would express how you feel bout the people at Heartland who had personal details publically exposed"

You think that playing a partisan game gives an ethical point more force? I think they are separate issues, and to conflate them is to beggar ethics.

(I am on record condemning Gleick's appropriation of Heartland documents)

Mar 26, 2012 at 4:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterdeliberately anonymous

"I agree with you, a website upon which you post should do everything necessary to protect your data, and to promptly inform its users of a potential compromise. Cook evidently knew there was a problem quite some time ago, but failed in his duty to inform his user base or to address the issue."

You don't agree with me, you are making a different point, preferring to shift the blame to the blog host.

The information was meant to be private. The hacker knew it. I don't think anyone knows exactly what security protocols were in place, but I see the attraction in uncritically accepting the statements of a hacker who is anonymous and concerned about "getting caught". Would anyone argue that the ethics of stealing mail from a letterbox is dependent in any way on how easy it is to do?

It's like blaming Heartland for what Gleick did.

C'mon people. How much would it hurt to say that it's not right for some anonymous entity to gather up people's private data and provide links to it on public blogs? The climate wars are feisty, but there are some thing we can all agree on. Let this be one of them. Excusing this rancid behaviour, or making hay out of it, just tarnishes the person doing it. Take the high road.

Mar 26, 2012 at 5:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterdeliberately anonymous

Nothing has been stolen. John Cook still has his marbles. The only difference is that we’ve seen them. The veil of the temple has been torn asunder and we have heard the sacred incantations: “Delingpole, Lindzen - both scum”. Not nice.
Dikran Marsupial offers to debate in private, as long as it’s about the science. Do the Oreskes and Doran “97% of Climate Cats prefer Warming” papers count as science?

Mar 26, 2012 at 6:43 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Since we are in to quoting Feynmann, I suggest the following passage from "Is Electricity Fire?"


A footnote: While I was at the conference, I stayed at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where young rabbis - I think they were Orthodox - were studying. Since I have a Jewish background, I knew of some of the things they told me about the Talmud, but I had never seen the Talmud. It was very interesting. It's got big pages, and in a little square in the corner of the page is the original Talmud, and then in a sort of L-shaped margin, all around this square, are commentaries written by different people. The Talmud has evolved, and everything has been discussed again and again, all very carefully, in a medieval kind of reasoning. I think the commentaries were shut down around the thirteen- or fourteen- or fifteen-hundreds - there hasn't been any modern commentary. The Talmud is a wonderful book, a great, big potpourri of things: trivial questions, and difficult questions - for example, problems of teachers, and how to teach - and then some trivia again, and so on. The students told me that the Talmud was never translated, something I thought was curious, since the book is so valuable,

I have no interest in attempting to discuss science at SkS because the rules of the local game mean that it is not fundamentally a science site: it's far more like a Talmud class.

Mar 26, 2012 at 8:14 AM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

You don't agree with me, you are making a different point, preferring to shift the blame to the blog host.

That's where the evidence points.
It's like blaming Heartland for what Gleick did.

Without an effective policy in place, they do have to bear a portion of responsibility. Heartland know through experience that there are potentially a great many people on the "warmy" side of the Global Warming debate who will do anything, say anything and twist anything in order to push their fervent ideological agenda. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

As a developer, myself, and one who regularly uses a security audit firm to check and test his work, I'm afraid I don't really hold with the "victim" line. But do please note that I don't distinguish between sides of the debate here. Anyone who handles personal data has a responsibility to handle that data with the utmost professionalism. This is not just a moral duty, it's a legal responsibility.

Mar 26, 2012 at 8:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

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