As I’ve said on other threads far too often, I was extremely peeved to be banned for life from Comment is Free, the Guardian’s interactive website, since I think commenting there is one of the most useful things a simple footblogger in the Climate Wars can do.

The Guardian is read by Greens and the pro-green centre-left, so it’s possible to have a real debate, and perhaps influence opinion on the opposing side. Guardian readers are clearly far more numerous than those of any sceptical blog, they are more likely to be believers in global warming than readers of Delingpole or Booker, and they are therefore more in need of enlightenment. I also felt that if Guardian editors realised that a majority of readers did not accept the warmist argument, they might put pressure on the Environment Editors to be more even-handed in their treatment.

On the last point I was clearly totally wrong, as evidenced by a recent interview given by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in “the Hindu” newspaper, in which he said:

“A year ago we decided the environment was the biggest story of our lives. So we have six reporters doing the environment … And then we built a network of … about 20 or 30 sites. A huge amount of editing and resources goes into the environment.” and by the comment by Environment Editor James Randerson that climate change is “editorial policy”.

Commenters here and elsewhere have objected that commenting on CiF is a waste of time, because of the distracting tactics of warmist trolls, and because of the apparent bias of moderators. Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill) was recently prevented from commenting on the thread to his own article when he was subjected to “pre-moderation”. I’ve never been convinced that the moderators are biased, since warmist comments frequently disappear, even comments by Guardian contributors,  like Blucloud and GPWayne.

I’ve just conducted an experiment at CiF, and I’m fairly sure I know how the “censorship” works. I can state with certainty (well, let’s say, with IPCC-style 90% confidence) that:

  1. The moderators will not take the initiative in removing comments. They only act if someone presses the “report abuse” button with a justified complaint.
  2. One complaint is enough to get a comment removed.
  3. Since the rules list a large number of types of “abuse”, it is very easy for a determined troll to get an opponent removed by persistently reporting  abuse.

The debate on the infamous 10:10 “Splattergate” video is currently raging at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/oct/04/10-10-campaign-events

At the time of writing, there were 100 comments on the above thread. Ten of them have been deleted, all of them posted by Onthefence, and all of them reported for abuse by me. They started at 15:28, when Onthefence addressed Ecocampaigner as follows:

“You laughed when Stephen Schneider died after being targetted in a hate mail campaign, and you went on to wish similar deaths on other climate scientists”.

Ecocampaigner replied, and Onthefence repeated his accusation at 15:34, 15:37, 15:45, 15:59, 16:15, 16:36, 17:27, 17:41, and 17:49. I reported abuse on two of the comments, adding that the statement was a lie. An hour later they had been deleted, but others kept popping up. I reported abuse each time, and they went, but I didn’t spot the first one until five hours later. I reported it, and forty minutes later it was gone.

The fact that the first abusive post stayed up after I’d reported and had deleted the other nine clearly demonstrates that the moderator didn’t read the other comments, even one posted six minutes before the comment he’s been invited to delete.

The fact that comments disappeared when and only when I reported them strongly suggests that I was the only one reporting abuse. It was obvious that Onthefence was being picked on, and it would  have been easy for anyone else to join in the fun and report his first abusive remark. The fact that it stayed up for five hours, until I spotted it and reported it, demonstrates that it was all my own work.

Clearly, the system is open to abuse. The fact that Ecocampaigner’s replies stay up, quoting Onthefence’s defamatory remarks, shows how ineffective the system is. If the Guardian carried out their stated policy of deleting replies to deleted posts, there would be nothing left on many threads. Clearly, the removal of polite, reasonable comments by the likes of Andrew Montford strongly suggests that dedicated warmist trolls are deliberately targeting the opponents they most fear. There is censorship at CiF, but it’s the work of commenters, not of the moderators, and it’s a result of a weakness in the Guardian’s system.

Let’s give the last word to the admirably even-tempered Ecocampaigner. Onthefence at 19:.41 complained that his comments were all deleted just after Ecocampaigner complained they were “off topic” To which Ecocampaigner replied at 19:54pm “It wasn’t me who complained, I’d have preferred it all stay up to be read. I want the world to see your viewpoint’.

Update 06/10/2010 20:40 :- The point I wanted to make is that, had I openly accused the commenter of lying on the thread, my comments would have been deleted. By secretly and anonymously accusing him of lying in my reports of abuse, I got his comments deleted. Clearly, there is something seriously wrong with the CiF moderation system.

116 Responses to “Moderation in Moderation: Comment is Free at The Guardian?”

  1. tempterrain #18
    You say a leopard doesn’t change his shorts (sorry, that was Pratchett – I couldn’t resist) but the point is that Delingpole, Brute &co never were racist, sexist, homophobe etc, possibly due to the total victory of our way of thinking 20, 30, 50 years ago. A certain model of conservative “enemy” has disappeared, and many on the left seem to regret it.
    Franny Armstrong said she didn’t really want to kill sceptics, simply amputate them. You, in your comment on the Guardian thread, say you don’t want to blow up children, simply Joanne Nova and a number of others you name. After the enormous fuss over Splattergate, the fact that both you and Franny go and make exactly the same “mistake” seems odd, to say the least.
    I note you retract the remark about Brute. Thanks for that.

  2. Junkkmale #20
    On “plants” by the other side:
    There used to be a hilarious lady on Guardian Environment threads called GreenAngelChloe, a primary school teacher who thought democracy and legal process were luxuries we could ill afford in these catastrophic times. She recounted how she made the little children cry with her song “No more snow”. Eventually, some hard-hearted warmist accused her of being a sceptic double agent and she went away.
    I used to be careful about insults, not only for fear of the moderator, but because of two commenters who admitted that the reason they posted so often was because they were in hospital and unlikely to come out. It’s a complex ecosystem, is CiF.
    Alex Cull #23
    Our musings as to what is going on behind the scenes at Guardian CiF remind me of articles by Kremlinologists about what was “really” happening in the Soviet Union.
    I don’t believe Monbiot actually intervenes personally in the moderation. How would it work? Would it be like Dick Cheney in the Air Defence Ops Room on 9/11? (“Go have a coffee young man. I’ll deal with this one”) He certainly uses the below-the-line comments to his advantage, fielding the easy ones, pointing out the more stupid comments, and ignoring the hard questions. It’s not a level playing field, but why should it be?
    When I posted this three days ago, I signalled this post, plus a similar one at Bishop Hill, to the moderator with whom I had previously been in contact, asking her to forward the link to the new CiF editor Nathalie Hanman. TonyN also invited the Guardian to participate. If there’s no reply, I think the next stage would be to contact Ms Hanman directly. Her two recent posts inviting comments on CiF have gathered about 2000 comments, though none, of course, from those of us who are banned.

  3. geoffchambers

    You raised a very interesting point. The accepted world views on race, sex, homosexuality, religious tolerance, etc. have changed fundamentally over the past 50 years, at least in the developed “western” society. Those who have always pushed for this change can be pleased that it has taken place.

    I would hope that the incredible intolerance of dissenting opinion exhibited by the 10:10 “Splattergate” fiasco and echoed by Peter (in jest, I hope) is an aberration and that most supporters of the “dangerous AGW” hypothesis are more tolerant toward those who do not share their view (I’ll agree that maybe this is naïve of me).

    However, there are still many parts of the world where these views have not changed substantially, i.e. where women are still suppressed, where homosexuality is condemned as a “sin” (or even a punishable “crime”), where women are sold into marriage, where marital infidelity (by a woman) is punishable by death, where “infidels” are fair game for murder, where a “holy war” justifies killing even those who are not “infidels”, etc. And these views are not limited to just the Islamic world. Controlling population growth may be a necessary and even a good thing, but killing female newborns to achieve it (as happens frequently in China), is not, nor is squashing or persecuting political dissent groups.

    Since WWII and the fall of the USSR, society no longer tolerates (real) “death trains”, “gulags” and “extermination camps”, but “ethnic and political cleansing” still occurs (Cambodia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Kashmir, East Timor, Darfur are some recent examples).

    But back to our “western” world. What role did the “left” play in changing the generally accepted views on race, sex, homosexuality, religious tolerance, etc. over the past 50 years?

    I would agree with you that pressure from the “left” certainly played a role, but that other factors also came into play. Arguably, these include increased affluence and education.

    For me the big question is whether or not we can defend our open world view against those who are determined to destroy us for having it.

    To me this is a far greater and more imminent threat than a few tenths of a degree warming (possibly partially) attributable to human use of energy, itself essential in order to support our modern, affluent society.

    Is the distraction presented by the “rich man’s” guilt-driven fixation on AGW causing us to ignore an even greater threat to our society?

    Leaving intolerance of dissent on AGW aside for now, will a more tolerant and “politically correct” view of the “left” toward other belief systems end up opening the door to those who want to destroy us? Can we deflect this threat by promoting education and even greater tolerance or do we need to take more defensive protective action? These are questions that many Swiss are asking themselves (and I am sure that it is not only the Swiss).

    Max

  4. “Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” Robert Heinlein

    I think what has happened is that the “left” has, because of “leftist” movement on various social issues, because of the rise of libertarianism as an ideal on the right & because of the collapse of a coherent idealogy (communism) on the left, become a much more congenial place for control minded people to reside. For example note that historically “conservation” was a conservative movement & yet is now accepted as far leftist.

  5. Here is my dissertation in Poetry and Climate Change:

    I wandered lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of bloody windmills;

  6. Jack Hughes

    A suggested second verse to your “Poetry and Climate Change” ode:

    They were so quiet – why? I pondered
    And then I saw that they were still
    I scratched my head and then I wondered
    Why are they up there on that hill?

  7. Jack Hughes

    At the risk of overdoing it, here is a suggested third (and final) verse to your “windmill” ode:

    These windmills were quite dear, I thought
    But yet they’re everywhere to see,
    “Who’s payed for this?” my question sought
    And then I realized it’s “me”.

  8. Here’s my poem:

    Windmills suck.

    (The end)

  9. Neil Craig,

    You say “that historically ‘conservation’ was a conservative movement & yet is now accepted as far leftist.”

    ‘Conservation’ of the type you are thinking about was perhaps the creation of fenced off hunting grounds for Royalty and other landed gentry from and from where the lower orders could be expelled and excluded. That’s still an issue to some extent, even today, in the creation of protected zones for wild animals in Asia and Africa. Tigers or Gorillas aren’t going to be able to easily co-exist alongside human settlement.

    The modern conservation movement is often described as ultra-left, even though many of its most enthusiastic supporters may come from the wealthier social classes and even may even think of themselves as Liberals or Conservatives rather than Socialist.

    So why ultra-left? The answer is simply that they get in the way of large multi-national corporations who put their profits before the environment. Anyone who crosses them must be a subversive Marxist!

  10. Max,

    You say “Right-wingers” are ‘anti-science’ (and therefore do not believe that AGW is a threat to humanity, do not accept the Darwinian theories of evolution, believe in ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’, do not believe that smoking causes cancer, etc, etc..”

    There are a few points in there which aren’t quite right. I’ve read that conservative types like Fred Singer have actually done some good stuff in the past. Teller, one of the developers of the H bomb, and who was notoriously right wing, still needed some good science to get the bomb working regardless of the ethical considerations involved.

    Multinational companies aren’t necessarily anti-science either. There can be good profits in all kind of scientific and hi-tech enterprises. But what happens when or if science findings threaten those profits? Of course, exactly that happened in the tobacco industry. The industry fought for 30 years or more – in some parts of the world they still haven’t given up arguing the toss about the scientific evidence.

    I must say I have recently changed my opinion about the sincerity of their arguments in the 70’s and 80’s. Previously I had always assumed that they’d known full well they were in the wrong but had deliberately lied to justify their own existence.

    Now I think that it’s quite possible that it involved a much more complex process with a large measure of human psychology included. Because they wanted there to be no problem with their product they had actually convinced themselves that there wasn’t, regardless of the evidence in front of them. Many individual smokers, of course, argued along the same lines.

    It also seems to be quite possible to know one thing but actually believe the opposite. I can’t speak from personal experience, but when you look at cases like this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/12/science/12geologist.html

    There seems to be no other explanation.

    I’m not necessarily equating creationism with AGW scepticism , though I’m sure there is a high degree of correlation in the US Bible belt, but the NY Times article does cast some light on how intelligent people like Fred Singer can take a contrarian view on both AGW and tobacco smoking regardless of the evidence.

    Are there other scientists who actually know one thing to be true but say the opposite because they are paid by big corporations to make their case? Possibly, but I think it’s not too difficult to listen to a lawyer and know he’s just presenting his case. I’d say Ian Plimer is doing just that but I doubt if he’ll ever admit it.

  11. PeterM

    You wrote:

    You say “Right-wingers” are ‘anti-science’ (and therefore do not believe that AGW is a threat to humanity, do not accept the Darwinian theories of evolution, believe in ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’, do not believe that smoking causes cancer, etc, etc..”

    That’s not quite correct. I wrote that you appear to have this ‘very “black and white” outlook on politics and AGW’.

    I agree with your latest statement that being a “right-winger” (or “left-winger”) has nothing whatsoever to do with one’s outlook on “science” (or specifically on the ongoing scientific debate surrounding the “dangerous AGW” hypothesis).

    Glad you cleared this up (and that you no longer regard geoffchambers, TonyB, Bob_FJ, Brute, myself and all the others here as “Bible-thumping, anti-science, ultra-right-wingers”, simply because we have not bought into your personal view on “dangerous AGW”.

    This makes it much easier to discuss the scientific issues without getting side-tracked into meaningless political discussions.

    The “tobacco industry” analogy is so far-removed from the scientific debate on DAGW, that it is totally irrelevant (even if one or the other scientist on either side of the debate may have smoked or may have felt that smoking was no problem). It is an unrelated side-track, Peter, and you’d be wise to drop it and stick with the science supporting or falsifying the DAGW hypothesis, instead.

    Max

  12. PeterM

    You ask in 35:

    Are there other scientists who actually know one thing to be true but say the opposite because they are paid by big corporations to make their case?

    Let me rephrase this so that it applies more generally to the ongoing AGW debate:

    Are there other scientists who actually know one thing to be true but say the opposite because they are paid by politicians to make their case for carbon taxes?

    Possibly (for both premises). But who knows what goes on in a person’s mind?

    Max

  13. Max,

    It is not so much “black and white” as stating the obvious. Which is that none of you have actually decided your stance on AGW, by a detailed study on the merits, or otherwise, of the mainstream scientific case.

    My so-called “latest statement that being a “right-winger” (or “left-winger”) has nothing whatsoever to do with one’s outlook on ‘science'” is actually pretty much the opposite of what I’m saying. I’m saying that you’ve all prejudged the issue without considering the strength of the scientific case. How can you have? You don’t understand it.

    While there may be a few, but not many, on the political left who think the AGW issue is just another way for wicked capitalists to increase their expropriation of the surplus value created by the labour of the proletariat, it is overwhelmingly the “new right” who have the main problem. As you’ve explained very well they think “[scientists] are paid by politicians to make their case for carbon taxes”.

    So, what does this amount to? Ultra right-wing libertarians and some ultra-leftists who are essentially in agreement, although they wouldn’t like to acknowledge that, and may choose to explain themselves a little differently!

    It’s us moderate, and sensible people who reject all this political nonsense and go along with what every organisation of scientific repute are advising.

  14. PeterM

    You claim (38)

    that none of you have actually decided your stance on AGW, by a detailed study on the merits, or otherwise, of the mainstream scientific case

    This is pure rubbish, of course.

    You are simply making an assumption that I (and others) “have decided our stance on AGW” based on something other than “a detailed study on the merits, or otherwise, of the mainstream scientific case”.

    Can you substantiate this notion, or have you just pulled it out of thin air?

    I have shown you repeatedly why the “mainstream scientific case” is weak because it is not supported by empirical scientific observations and you have been unable to refute this by citing these empirical data.

    Sorry, Peter. All the waffling in the world plus your unsubstantiated assumptions regarding my basis for doubting the scientific validity of the “dangerous AGW” hypothesis simply won’t hack it.

    Bring the scientific evidence, Peter, as you have been asked ad nauseam to do.

    Otherwise we will all have to conclude that they do not exist, and that the “dangerous AGW” hypothesis is not supported by empirical scientific evidence.

    Max

    Max

  15. Wow Pete……For all of your proclamations describing yourself as a “good Liberal” I think that you have some work to do in the tolerance department.

    You continuously denigrate and bad mouth “religion” but I’ve noticed that it’s only Christianity that you loathe.

    You don’t disguise your deep seated hatred very well I must say!

    I’ve seen your type before……you’re the anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-establisment, anti-progress, anti-Capitalism type (Peace, Love, Dope!)…..a professional malcontent.

    A self loathing white guy wracked with guilt due to the “sins” of “your people” perpetrated on the “less fortunate” peoples of the world….you’re a crusader……(Now, a rebel without a cause).

    The “60’s” ended 40 years ago Pete…..time to put on your big girl panties and grow up.

    You really should go and see a shrink to work out all of the hatred inside of yourself.

  16. PeterM

    Before we break off this rather repetitive and increasingly boring exchange, let me ask you three point-blank questions.

    In comparison with other bloggers here who have not accepted the “dangerous AGW” premise,

    1. Do you think that you are inherently more intelligent? (Y/N)

    2. Do you think that you are more “open-minded”? (Y/N)

    3. Do you think that you are more “technically or scientifically qualified” to make a judgment on DAGW? (Y/N)

    If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, please specify your reasoning.

    Max

  17. Max, PeterM
    The scientific debate doesn’t belong on ths thread. Neither, strictly, does the debate about the relation between the politics and the science. Its introduction here was probably my fault, when I suggested that the moral imperatives provided by global warming tended to appeal to the Guardian and its “progressive” minded readers (including me and PeterM) who have difficulty dealing with a Right which can no longer be dismissed as morally despicable.
    Since we’re here, I think we could probably agree – couldn’t we? – that, independently of the truth of the hypothesis, a scientific theory which provides a moral imperative for helping the third world, and limiting the power of multinationals to lay waste to the environment, is going to appeal to left wing utopians and bureaucratic busybodies. And it’s going to annoy anyone who doesn’t like being told what to do, and doesn’t want to pay more taxes. That’s practically everybody, of course, but it’s those on the right who have a more sensitive nose for that sort of thing, and so they are the ones who will protest first and loudest.
    In the USA the political divisions seem to bear out this analysis. In Britain, the “natural” tendency for debate to form itself around recognisable poles of left and right, libertarians and authoritarians, seems to have broken down, and we see the normally libertarian Guardian (not only them) suppressing debate in a most authoritarian fashion, and pacifists expressing violent authoritarian fantasies, etc.

  18. geoffchambers

    Point well made (42).

    I rest my case.

    The general discussion on the “science” and “politics” behind the “dangerous AGW” premise should move to the NS thread. Agreed.

    Max

  19. Tempterrain your assessment of why “Greenns” are considered far left – that they are opposed to multinational companies (excepy 02, Shell, windmill mutinationals etc which fund them) – does not expalin the important point – thjat the Greens are accepted as far left by what remains of the socialist & communist movements. As you enthusiastically showed they were not historically of the left & as opponents of scientific progress stand for preciely the opposite of what Marx stood for.

    To say that the “right” is “anti-science” because much of it doesn’t believe the current catastrophic warming scam, or the previous ice age tale, is simply yah boo debate & does not deserve an answer.

  20. NeilCraig #44
    The fact that green ideas are considered “far left” and are adopted unthinkingly by trots and anarchists, as well as by orthodox centre left parties, is indeed an odd thing about modern politics. Climate Resistance are specialists in the discussion of this topic, and their latest article is both illuminating and very funny. See:
    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2010/10/8-executions-and-a-funeral.html

  21. Geoff,

    I don’t pretend to know all of the idiosyncrasies of British politics; however, it is telling that a bomb throwing environmentalist radical is now representing the political left.

    Perhaps Peter should look at the other side of the coin (objectively).

    Again, as previously noted, I find it curious that Marxism is the Left’s solution to a “scientific” problem.

  22. geoffchambers says:
    October 10th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    The link in turn links to another Graun piece I was not aware of until now, which was was, again, revealing, especially this piece:

    ‘It has received over 170,000 views on YouTube and postings on countless other sites.

    Lot of people hated it though.’

    This moved me to point to mutual exclusivity being attempted here between those who viewed it and those who liked it, a bit like the ‘split’ the BBC tried to set up on those pro and con on the original ‘look at what we’ve got’ teaser thread they linked at the Graun.

    Plus another opportunity to note the 3-day thread closing rule was again… ‘flexible”, more by whim than anything.

  23. Brute,

    Re your #40. It sounds like someone has rattled your cage and disturbed your slumbers. But it wasn’t me, at least not recently. Honestly. :-)

  24. THere is Moderation at work…

    I have had numerous comments in pre-moderation..

    Only for them NEVER to appear..

    Thus, no commnetor would have been able to report abuse against it, becaue the moderators never allowed it inthe first place.

  25. Barry Woods

    Did you see the reply I gave to you over at Climate etc regarding the indoctrination of school children?

    I have had a couple of comments that never appeared at the Guardian but just assumed it was one of those things and I hadn’t posted it correctly. It has happended here and that seems to be related to the number of links involved.

    I really don’t think the Guardian is a venue that I want to bother about seeing as its guarded by some very fierce trolls-One of whom has just appoeared at Climate etc.

    tonyb

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