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Discussion > Unpalatable feedback

I want to return to something Shub said in reply to me on 9th November that I think is completely self-contained:

The extended peer community doesn't have a name. It has names like mailman, and dung. Owing precisely to this is it able to offer unpalatable feedback.

There are two phrases I want to examine here: owing precisely to this and unpalatable feedback. I want us to be extremely disciplined. No other aspect of the debate about Real names or pseudonyms (and there are many) belongs here. For if Shub is right in what I take him to mean here, then I admit that my proposals in that thread, on 11th April, were wrong.

The first question that arose for me when I read this is

1. Is all unpalatable feedback good?

If one answers no to that it raises this:

2. Are there internet blogs, or parts thereof, where there is too much unpalatable feedback?

We will need to define exactly what is meant by unpalatable feedback of course. Unpalatable to whom is an obvious place to begin. It would be good if Shub came to explain what he originally meant but this thread doesn't depend on that. Each person needs their own precision here.

Then there's 'owing precisely to this' referring to the previous two sentences. Here are two questions that arise for me:

1. would it be impossible for the right level of unpalatable feedback to be delivered on Bishop Hill without pseudonymity?

2. if there is ever too much unpalatable feedback in the blog, or in any part of the blog, can this ever be the fault of pseudonymity or of specific actors using pseudonyms?

A yes and a no there and my most recent proposals here and here were completely unnecessary. Even if one says yes to question two there are further questions (and answers) that could also show I was wrong. That's what the rest of this thread is for.

Note that in this thread it is possible to prove me wrong. But not to prove me right. I want to limit the debate to one aspect. To be more specific about it, Dung's recent argument that the vast majority of Bishop Hill contributors are happy with the way things are is irrelevant here. It may be a powerful argument that I'm an idiot - or one that needs testing with a well-designed questionnaire, come to that - but it doesn't belong here. There's another thread for that. I want a narrower, more disciplined discussion here, just as we did in Channelling dogginess.

Nov 22, 2012 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake


Hats off to you for opening this discussion, I think you make many good and complex points in your post and I need to read it a number of times to do it justice so I will if I may, just give a limited response now.

I think "unpalatable feedback" does indeed need to be defined, are we talking about feedback about individuals, about ideas or about both? I have obviously seen that you are a defender of the need for individuals to be protected from anonymous critics making personal attacks and I have a great deal of sympathy for that standpoint. That was the reason why before I made any critical remarks about you, I paid you the respect of giving you personal details about myself.
Until you define "unpalatable feedback" I can not really say more.

Nov 22, 2012 at 4:02 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I think Shub should have first shot with the definitions, if he wishes, but I'll no doubt chip in after that!

Nov 22, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

[deleted - i misunderstood something]

Nov 22, 2012 at 5:05 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A


Something occurs to me that needs saying here; I feel obliged to join this discussion (because I objected so strongly to your actions) and hopefully reach a conclusion/result however there is a possibility that others will not wish to get involved. A poster on BH who is certain in his/her own mind that using a nickname is needed for personal reasons or simply because they see no problems in it, may not wish to get involved.

Nov 22, 2012 at 5:08 PM | Registered CommenterDung

You shouldn't feel obliged to join or, even if you did, I think you should feel free to take about half a year to think it through. I first got interested in these issues in 1999 and I still don't think I know the answers. All we can do is our best and sometimes that takes a little while.

However, we do have one data point on what Shub meant by unpalatable feedback (UF). He also seemed to imply on 9th November that the comment concerned was good UF. And even the word good needs qualifying. What Shub seemed to imply was that the blog was better for the particular comment being here than not being here. That is what I suggest we mean by good. That's very different from something being right; it can be a weaker condition than right, certainly than 100% right, in any particular reader's view. But there may also be comments which one considers right but not good - for example, ones including a lot of swearing or phrases like "You must be a fucking idiot to believe that." One might agree with the speaker, that their expressed opinion is right but think the way they've expressed it is not good. In other words, the blog would be poorer for that comment remaining unsnipped, even though it's 'right'.

So, to get us started, when Shub used unpalatable feedback he had one comment in mind and I think he was implying that that unpalatable feedback was good, in the sense I've defined it here. And I myself wasn't far away from the same opinion.

Nov 22, 2012 at 8:58 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake


I think the blog is like a living thing; it is always changing for better and for worse but it survives and corrects itself. It would be wonderful to know how many people read BH without ever posting a thing, I think we might be surprised ^.^
In terms of the regular posters I think you have the right mix to ensure that bad behaviour is less likely than on any other blog I have seen, plus of course we have the influence of his Grace. When joining a blog I imagine most people try and work out how it works and what is acceptable and then they progress from there. I honestly never gave any thought to having a nickname because ever since I started using the internet almost everyone used one (and I have been using it for a very long time sir hehe) and I would say real names are a recent development as we find more uses for the net.

Unpalatable feedback:
Just to take the issue of swear words; my normal standard is that foul language adds nothing, is often used like verbal wallpaper and in general should be banned/snipped. Having said all that there are times when WTF! is a natural response to outrageous behaviour by politicians or others, well at least it is in me. There are also people who can be very funny in their use of swear words. Almost 50 years ago a college friend of mine when surprised would say "well fuck a duck" and I am sorry but it always had me in stitches so even swear words may be right sometimes.
You dont sound like the type of person who would play online computer games so sorry if this bores you but I run a large guild in a game called World of Warcraft, current membership is about 150 people. I make the law, my word IS law BUT nobody needs to belong to my guild because there are hundreds of others. In chat between members I forbid foul language and here we are including a very mixed age group. Those members who dont like it leave or I kick them out and it works fine.
On Shub's point that a good comment was effectively one which added to the conversation (right or wrong) I agree with that and I also think that those who add swear words to an otherwise valuable post find they get snipped and soon fall into line.
In the end when we come to BH I think we have to accept that HIs Grace is the final arbiter and that his standards are the ones by which we are all judged and that includes both bad language and maybe also the use of pseudonyms?

By the way when I said I felt obliged, I did not mean that I felt forced to join, it is entirely voluntary :)

Nov 22, 2012 at 10:37 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung: You're right that I never got into massively multi-user games. But I think there are potential lessons in many diverse places on these issues. I like the sound of your guild in WoW and of the freedom of choice people have to join it or, if they prefer, others with different rules. We may not have quite such a range of choice with sceptic blogs, as far as rules are concerned, but that doesn't mean we can't auto-correct within one good one, as you rightly say.

At this point I'm trying to define terms rather than express my own view. One of the next things I was thinking about was the spectrum of good and bad, specifically bringing in the role of the host. So perhaps:


In due course I might be proposing a new category: good-r. But I don't think we should rush at that.

s stands for snipped by the host
w stands for subject to a warning from the host.

Any ideas on why I have both good and bad in the second case?

As far as real names being a new idea, Ward Cunningham released the first wiki in early 1995 and asked for Real Names Please in that first release and from then on. So from where I'm coming it's not so new.

Nov 22, 2012 at 11:04 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

As a little diversion, that last paragraph led me to re-read my own words on Ward's Wiki from at least seven years back, maybe more:

There is only one page that I started on Wiki that every time I come back to it gives me guaranteed, massive pleasure, often causing loud guffaws.

ThankYou, Wiki, for what you have done with WikiRewritesHistory. Anonymous all. Indeed, anonymity at its coolest. -- RichardDrake

It's still true that Wiki Rewrites History, which I began in early 1999, immediately followed by an enigmatic comment by Ward himself, makes me laugh. It just did again. And it's still the case that there are no (real) signatures all the way down. Wonderful and remarkable.

Nov 22, 2012 at 11:32 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake


I need to go off at a tangent to your last post here. Thirty or thirty five years ago I would have relished the kind of intellectual discussion you have just tried to start but I have changed. Entering an argument with you about anonymity was not motivated by intellectual interest, it was motivated by what I saw as the need to protect something I believed in (your passion comes in here) just as I think that was the cause for your crusade.
However now you seem to be wanting to analyse the hell out of good and bad posts for what seem to be purely intellectual interest. For example I can almost guarrantee that you will not get any other poster on BH to join that kind of discussion, they are here to discuss climate change and politics (me too hehe).
I do not think that I have the spare mental "bandwidth" to go into things that deeply anymore in which case I owe you an apology for misunderstanding what you meant by "analyse the living daylights out of our differences"

Nov 22, 2012 at 11:48 PM | Registered CommenterDung

No matter. I didn't start this expecting massive numbers to join and I have no bad feelings towards anyone not doing so, though I would be fascinated to know what Martin A said that was "[deleted - i misunderstood something]"! It was that edit of a comment that made me suspect that I was missing something by not being a registered user here. And so it has proved. Thanks Martin and Squarespace.

And I've just learned of a wonderful example of good-w that occurred on WUWT two days ago, with Anthony saying to 'Science_Author' (without deleting his post, which I'd definitely class as good-w):

REPLY: Ignore him. This denial of the greenhouse effect is just more CRAP from Doug Cotton under another one of his FAKE NAMES to get around the fact that he’s been banned from WUWT for thread bombing with Principia junk. He and the whole crowd of slayers can take a flying leap. Doug, let me be clear. You are creating fake email addresses. One more incident and I launch a complaint against your ISP. Now, for the last time GET OUT – Anthony

I note that this is now being discussed on another BH thread - so I think there is an interest in anonymity after all :) But when I wrote earlier "I have had real contempt in my heart for ... the refusal to face up to, or the casual belittling of, bad behaviour in this area" I have to clear Anthony Watts on all counts!

But that's to take the light-hearted view. How much precious time has been wasted, for Anthony, Jeff Id and many others, with these sly attempts to subvert social norms on brilliant (but demanding to moderate) climate blogs by these pathetic characters? Such great people's time is far more important than mine. So my passion is also in gear. But that also means the analysis of what might be done better to counter such attacks has to be the best.

Nov 23, 2012 at 12:01 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake


I hope we are not going head to head again here, you are the younger man and I need time to recover ^.^ I am not convinced that the GHE is real. Did you see the discussion thread started by Rhoda which asked for experimental proof that The GHE is real? Nobody could come up with an experiment that had been carried out that proved it was real. However being an awkward bugger I came up with one that proved it was not currently having any effect :)

Nov 23, 2012 at 12:22 AM | Registered CommenterDung

I admit that I barely looked at that discussion and wasn't aware of your own contribution. On the dynamics of the incredibly complex system we call atmosphere (and that and every other term it seems is so misleading, including of course greenhouse) I tend to follow what Jonathan Jones wrote in his memorable first 'real name' venture here in February 2011:

Far more importantly most scientists are reluctant to speak out on topics which are not their field. We tend to trust our colleagues, perhaps unreasonably so, and are also well aware that most scientific questions are considerably more complex than outsiders think, and that it is entirely possible that we have missed some subtle but critical point.

I trust people like Lindzen and Held in this way, having read them as carefully as I can - and I also applaud the amateurs who have a go in places like this as well.

But I abhor the misuse of pseudonymity to subvert the social system of blogs in such an important area of debate, by the likes of Doug Cotton and his deceptions, and by the likes of mydogsgotnonose and his many shape-shifting aliases around here. Anthony Watts, Andrew Montford and co have better things to be doing with their time than dealing with that kind of thing. I'm sure you agree with me on that.

Nov 23, 2012 at 12:32 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake


Well I guess that your final question there leads me to answer (Oh Nooooooooooees) not really but only because I think that it is up to Andrew and Anthony to decide that. Going back to my guild in World of Warcraft and the fact that players will only stay in a guild if they like it even though the Guildmaster's word is law. Both the players and the GM must decide what they want, a GM who makes ridiculous rules will stay GM but what good is a guild if it has no members (I know you dont understand the game so sorry for this). The players gain benefits from being in a guild and so holding out for a guild that is exactly what they demand may mean they are never in a guild.
Just like I have a vision of what a guild should be in WoW, so Andrew has a vision of what he would like a blog to be. If Andrew is too strict he will have a blog with no comments, if posters insist on ignoring the rules but saying exactly what they want, they will end up outside the blog.
BH is a thriving blog so maybe he has the right balance?

Nov 23, 2012 at 1:23 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Did you read the comment by Anthony Watts and merely find it amusing? Doesn't it make crystal clear his view of pseud abuse by Doug Cotton and how much useless time it has wasted for him and the whole WUWT moderation team? Hasn't our own host had to consider, then start to snip, then sometimes ban a whole variety of pseuds as well, including the very shifty BBD? (I gave another absurdist as an example in my last post but even if you think they/he/it is the greatest brain since Einstein the principle of his abuse of pseudonymity is the same.) Don't you agree that the cost of dealing with the dark side of the pseudonymous has been unproductive for Andrew, compared to writing his latest book, say? Do we really need a statement from him on that? Isn't it blindingly obvious?

Nov 23, 2012 at 1:32 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake


Anthony Watts has become angry with one man; Doug Cotton and the fact that he has used many fake names to attack WUWT. However AW has never suggested that the answer is for all his followers to use real names.
The actions of trolls on BH have so far not resulted in Andrew suggesting that he is against pseudonyms and at least once he asked for talk of anonymity to stop.
I can see that you are attacking something for the right reasons and with passion and belief but surely you can see that what happens on BH is for AM to decide and what happens on WUWT is for AW to decide. We can all have opinions but the decisions are not ours to make.

Nov 23, 2012 at 2:25 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Anthony Watts has become angry with one man

No - he wrote: "He and the whole crowd of slayers can take a flying leap." What's interesting here is how naturally slayers take, without any conscience, to abusive use of pseudonyms to try and advance their cause or (in my view, in the worst cases) to distract and destroy the credibility of genuine, thoughtful sceptics.

However AW has never suggested that the answer is for all his followers to use real names.

Neither have I. Was does that have to do with it? We're not talking solutions here but about the nature and scope of the problem - like the time Simon Abingdon, Jonathan Jones, Martin A, Jeremy Harvey and many others spent on MDGNN's impossible-to-decipher ideas in seven pages of Radiative transfer - with Jonathan, Martin and Jeremy, at least, being scathing about the guy once they'd really looked into it. But he managed to divert attention for that long of some very valuable people, both names and nyms, I care not. And by October the same guy in different pseudonogarb felt happy to interrupt and confuse a key visitor Chris Hope. It's not the only time.

The decisions are not ours to make on moderation but, if we do the thinking well, who knows when and where such analysis and proposals for action will become useful. Thanks for the interaction for that end :)

Nov 23, 2012 at 2:40 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Dont get angry with me because I am not trying to be provocative here ^.^

" Doesn't it make crystal clear his view of pseud abuse by Doug Cotton"

No it makes crystal clear his view of abuse by Doug Cotton, nothing more or he would have said so.

He did complain about DOUG COTTON using fake names but NOT fake names in general.

Nov 23, 2012 at 2:48 AM | Registered CommenterDung


I see you as someone with a truly passionate belief in something who needs confirmation and support. Because I see the passion and the need I want to help you but I can not betray my own passionately held beliefs :(

Nov 23, 2012 at 2:54 AM | Registered CommenterDung


I suggest that you are drinking Whiskey as I am drinking beer and it is bad for both of us hehe. May I ask which whiskey you prefer?

Nov 23, 2012 at 3:01 AM | Registered CommenterDung

One pint of cider earlier in the day is more than I normally do. Sorry :)

Let's get back to what unpalatable feedback means. Unpalatable refers to the reaction of someone. In the case Shub was dealing with that person was Nic Lewis and the UF was from Mailman. I think it's simplest to start with that as the model: person A says something and person B gives feedback suggesting that A is wrong in some way.

Now in some cases A may at once welcome the feedback of B, in fact (and I've seen it here on Bishop Hill, remarkably enough) they may at once take B's point as correct. But I think UF should mean here any feedback that might be unpalatable to A because it suggests that they are wrong in some way.

Nobody in their right mind is going to say that all UF is harmful - it is mostly brilliant, as Shub was suggesting. But there are a small number of cases where UF is bad - indeed, some cases where it is bad-s, or snipped. There were two striking examples of that in the last ten days on Martin A's BBC Tipping Point thread, from someone calling themselves Anon, who I took to be responding critically to me. You can see my responses here and here. In the second case I began:

Who is asking you to believe that? Steve Messham. There are people of his age and background who have never googled anything. But I'm not asking you to believe him. It's a free country. Perhaps you want to go further and libel Lord McAlpine directly, using Bishop Hill as your medium and 'Anon' as your user name. How courageous that would be and how thoughtful to the host of this blog.

This also serves as a good example of my contempt - not for all nyms, not even for a small group of them, but for an individual who has just really misused this priviledge. I was delighted when the host snipped the original in that case but I couldn't be totally sure he would. There'd been an earlier post which pointed to similar material about McAlpine and others that hadn't been. The host cannot be expected to follow every link from every post here. Perhaps my sarcasm in this case helped to pinpoint the culprit. I don't know. But all of this takes time - for more than one person, most likely. It's not productive time.

But we have here two examples of UF that was at once deemed bad-s. And I think we've got a working definition of UF to boot.

Nov 23, 2012 at 3:22 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Yes, the "Anon" postings were awful. BH must be almost unique as a blog in having virtually no moderation yet (for the most part) remaining reasonably civilised. If postings like Anon's were frequent, I imagine BH would have no choice but to implement a system of moderation.

[Dung: I've answered your "is a nuclear explosion possible" on the Close DECC thread]

Nov 23, 2012 at 11:19 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Hi guys
Sorry for the late join.

Agree with Dung on the avoiding over-analysis. Secondly, answers to your questions have been offered by many, already, in the previous threads. For instance, to the question of whether the Bish's time would be better served than cleaning up behind anonymous trolls (just so we don't get into definitions again: anonymous troll - uses pseudonym + non-productive posts +/- shapeshifting):

It is true that pseudonymity in the internet spawn whole new breeds of living entities - 'trolls' who monopolize boards and conversations, set the tone, and influence agendas wholescale. The popularity and longevity of internet boards, unless curated and cared for in an exquisite on-going fashion, is dictated in large part by troll density. That is how it has always been.

So, yes, need someone, or a group, to be hanging around and 'curating' and wasting their time. Small groups can self-police, but larger ones find it difficult. What can be done about it? Not much - that is my opinion. The tone and attitude set by regulars can serve as a signal to potential new members - to be attracted to join in, or to become trolls. But there is little control beyond that.

As far as good feedback/bad feedback goes - when I see stupid stuff, I ignore it. When I see hostile posts, I pause to think - does he or she, 'have a point shining through beneath the hostility?'

When mac was pestering Betts, I felt sympathy for Betts. Betts was obviously not in a position to speak for the Met Office. But I saw Betts give quasi-officialese, carrying-the-water-for-the-IPCC, 'communicator'-ey sort of answers over a good length of time and expected kudos in return, but instead got to feel the wrath of commenters who have a traditional old-school understanding of what science means and how it ought to function. Good then. Where do you think the burden of introspection lies? I think Betts should think: 'huh, so that is how a cross-section of British taxpayers think about science 'communicators'?'. The commenters should go: 'huh, maybe I shouldn't have bitten the head off of someone who reached out (so he can keep doing more of his 'communication')'.

At least pretend to be nice so people other than those of your wavelength feel like jumping in and saying things. Things are boring otherwise.

Nov 23, 2012 at 11:50 AM | Registered Commentershub

Martin, thanks.

If postings like Anon's were frequent, I imagine BH would have no choice but to implement a system of moderation.

I take it you mean pre-moderation, as WUWT has. I take my hat off to those guys - incredibly hard work being the most visited climate blog and all that goes with it. But BH, CA and CE (Judy's) all operate without pre-mod, which is really quite remarkable. And yet with the difference of clientele and the policy of the host they've ended up very different in this order:


Now by what characteristic am I ordering them? Hmm, suggestions please.

On Anon, the moment he failed to answer my question as to why he was posting this material anonymously I took an extremely negative view of the guy (sorry for the gender assumption there, other men). Before that I thought he might know some victims, that kind of thing. That's just to explain my own thought processes. Such extreme allegations need more disclosure. UF at the edge.

Nov 23, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

CA has heavy handed moderation.

[1] why do you want to analyse the psychology of blog-moderation?
[2] Why do you sprinkle every post with two/more statements that someone else may not necessarily agree with, and then further down, claim that since the same has 'already been established', you are surprised anyone's disagreeing with you at all?

You attempts to classify 'good UF/bad UF/etc', are again, agenda-driven. Little interest in your agenda.

Nov 23, 2012 at 12:13 PM | Registered Commentershub