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. Barry’s post is at:
    http://judithcurry.com/2010/10/07/open-thread-week-in-review/#comment-3648
    and Tonyb’s at:
    http://judithcurry.com/2010/10/07/open-thread-week-in-review/#comment-3663
    Under premoderation your comment gets delayed, so you can’t take part in the debate, even if it appears eventually. It happened to me when I was rude about Berlusconi, and I suppose it can be justified when there are fears of libellous commments, for instance. Then I imagine the moderator hands the decision up to a higher authority. I imagine Tonyb and maybe Barry had their comments removed because of the number of links, which could be interpreted as spamming.
    The interest of posting at CiF to me is in being able to contact a large number of possibly curious readers. When I started about wo years ago, I made a point of linking to WUWT and ClimateAudit as often as possible, because it was quite clear that many sceptics or “undecideds” were quite unaware of mainstream sceptic blogs. Later, I tried to link to here or Clmate Resistance or Omniclimate, to encourage traffic on the British based blogs. Guardian Environment is quite openly a medium for warmist propaganda, and I felt I was doing my bit if I could use it to counter their own biasses.

  2. Hope this isn’t too OT.

    I feel strongly about the indoctrination of schoolchildren

    My own child is now learning about “sustainability” in her science class.

    Maybe someone can give us a quick summary of what “sustainability” is and how it can be measured. If I went to the library would books on this subject be in the science section – or would they be in “economics ” or “politics” or even “new age”.

  3. Jack Hughes

    You asked what “sustainability” means. Let’s check Wiki:

    Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time.

    OK. That sounds like a “scientific” sort of definition that is devoid of “political double-talk”. Sort of describes the way that polar bears have survived climate swings in the Arctic, including prolonged periods that were much warmer than today.

    But let’s read on:

    Sustainability interfaces with economics through the social and ecological consequences of economic activity.

    Hmm. This is beginning to sound a bit less “scientific” and a bit more “sociological”. But let’s continue:

    Sustainability economics involves ecological economics where social, cultural, health-related and monetary/financial aspects are integrated. Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism.

    Oh-oh! This is beginning to sound like socio-political double-talk with very little “science” involved.

    Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganising living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities)…

    “Ecovillages?” Oops! This sounds like total gibberish.

    …reappraising economic sectors (permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or work practices (sustainable architecture)…

    Ouch! Hold on to your wallets…

    …using science to develop new technologies (green technologies, renewable energy), to adjustments in individual lifestyles that conserve natural resources.

    Well, at least we’ve got “science” back into the equation. But the rest sounds like total political gobbledygook to me.

    But then I didn’t take the “science” course your daughter is taking now. I just studied chemistry…

    Max

  4. Thanks, Max.

    It looks like a mixture of vague nonsense and circular references.

  5. Jack Hughes

    Yeah. Circular or elliptical.

    At the risk of her getting a bad grade on the “science” test, clear your daughter up on the facts.

    After all, you’re her Dad, so you are bound to know more than some “fuzzy logic” science teacher.

    Max

  6. Max, Jack,

    “Sustainability” ?

    What about “affirming the validity” of? For instance, in a court of law, any objection from you lot would be overruled on the grounds that you didn’t know what you were talking about, whereas if you were to go along and study climate science properly at your local university you might find that what you had to say may be sustained!

  7. I had comments THAT NEVER appeared with NO LINKS. only a coupleof sentences..

    On the LOvelock interview in the Guardian, when LOvelock said the computer models are rubbish…

    I only put:

    I wonder what George Monbiot will make of that!

    NEVER appeared.

  8. Barry
    I’m sure you’re right (in fact I know you’re right, because it’s happened to me) that comments disappear without trace for no reason. Some people just can’t resist pushing that big red button. The point of this article was simply to indicate how one zealous troll (me, in this case) can “punish” a commenter who oversteps the line, without the moderator apparently using his judgement. I accused a commenter of lying, the moderator believed me, and deleted ten comments on my say-so. All I would say in defence of moderators is that they are NOT in the pockets of the journalists, as I will demonstrate in a later post.

  9. PeterM

    To “sustainability” you quoted another (legal rather than scientific) meaning:

    “Sustainability” ?

    What about “affirming the validity” of?

    Well, Jack Hughes’ daughter is not learning about “sustainability” in a “Law” course , but rather in a “Science” course (where I personally think she should be learning about real “science”, such as “biology”, “chemistry”, “physics”, etc. rather than the fuzzy socio-political concept of “sustainability”).

    But let’s use your definition, anyway.

    You refer to “climate science” as the field:

    if you were to go along and study climate science properly at your local university you might find that what you had to say may be sustained

    Using the legal definition of “sustainability” (i.e. “affirming the validity of”) I’d say that the “validity” of the dangerous AGW premise in climate science has not been “sustained”, i.e. scientifically “affirmed” by the scientific method.

    We’ve discussed this before on the other thread, Peter. It is the “fatal flaw” of your premise.

    But this whole discussion belongs on the other thread, Peter.

    Max

  10. Re moderation/censorship, there’s a comment on this Guardian thread that appears relevant:

    Mitzcici: 12 October 2010 8:18AM

    christineottery @ 11 October 2010 7:31PM

    If you are so sure that good reporting requires truth, why do you keep censoring comments about some scientists who disagree with you? Truth isn’t just what you print it’s about what you refuse to let your readers hear. Lies by omission.

    And this is relevant to this thread – you were the one who mention 97% of scientists … global warming consensus. Well here’s evidence, strong evidence, that the consensus that you mention may be based on rotten foundations.

    11 October 2010 2:57PM

    Christine,

    Thanks for your replies, but there really is not the consensus you suggest there is. I suggest you read the resignation letter of Professor Harold Lewis, which delivers a damning assessment of the politicisation and corruption of science which has happened.

    You would have been able to read it here, except your moderators deleted my post referring to it, and also deleted several other comments (including a couple which reproduced the letter), indeed removing the entries entirely so that people couldn’t even see that they had been moderated.

    It really is like a Police State. Comment is free (if you agree).

  11. As read more and more, this keeps popping into my head:

    ‘All comment is equal, but some is less equal than others’.

    I might write a book about it, but only once I’ve fed the Old Spots.

  12. Alex Cull #60
    Thanks for the link. This is an interesting case, where we can follow the moderator’s logic.
    In the first four hours four comments had been deleted. Then between 2.33pm and 7.31pm the author of the article Christine Ottery posted eight (!) times in reply to comments. In her second post (2.50pm) she says “can we avoid ad hominem attacks on Omond, Monbiot (how did he get dragged into this?) or myself here? It gets pretty boring after a while”. The ad hominems must be among the four posts deleted up to then, because the only mention of Monbiot is in a post pointing out that Ottery is a researcher for him!
    In this post she also says: “You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that there is a scientific consensus”, and here you can see what has happened. In the article she makes no claims about global warming, so Mitzcici’s reference to Lewis’s resignation is obviously off-topic. Only when Ottery mentions consensus at 2.50pm does it become on-topic. Mitzcici’s comment arrived just 7 minutes later and was deleted. His/her complaint of 8.18am today is still up, plus three more comments. The latest, just arrived at 2.39pm, is a gem:

    The Guardian is a mirror image of the Mail. Each panders to its readers’ prejudices, slants stories and cherry picks data. The comments in each are littered with extreme rantings but… and this is the great but.. on both there is a good body of people who go ‘come off it, we can see through that’. It’s nice to know that most people are smarter than the newpapers give them credit for.

  13. @Junkmale,

    There is no saying in the English language to the effect that “comment is equal”, the Guardian use the word “free”. However there is a saying : “empty vessels make the most noise”. So maybe what you are really objecting to are the Guardian’s use of noise filters?

  14. @tempterrain says:
    October 14th, 2010 at 5:34 am

    There is no saying in the English language to the effect that “comment is equal”, the Guardian use the word “free”. However there is a saying : “empty vessels make the most noise”. So maybe what you are really objecting to are the Guardian’s use of noise filters?

    Never said there was. I was merely adapting an actual quoted comment, from George Orwell, which seem apposite. So, actually, there is now. I just wrote it.

    Both were… are about some saying one thing, but doing another…. somewhat in favour of their own superior notions over others despite sanctimonious protestations of equality.

    It’s always interesting when such points get made, especially for one.

    ps: It’s JunkkMale. Amazing how many seem to like to use their own mis-spelling in personal references, for some reason.

  15. Yes, except that George Orwell was talking about animals not comments. Although there was notional equality of the animals in the constitution, it didn’t extend to an acceptance that the sheeps’ or hens’ utterances or comments were the equal of the pigs’, for example.

  16. Er, whatever… you wish to say. It is free, here, after all.

    It is interesting to note that I was commenting personally on a topic, and you decided to move it to a personal comment.

    I’ve noticed that seem to happen a lot with some ‘debaters’. Not interested. Find a new semantic playmate to try and overcome.

  17. JunkkMale, slightly OT but in the ballpark, I thought your comment on this thread was very apt, both about the BBC editorial attitude and the stealth editing (noticed that the Guardian has done its share of stealth editing as well, e.g., during the Andrew Montford/Bob Ward contretemps.)

  18. Alex Cull says:
    October 14th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Tx. All things considered… I needed that.

    At least that blog thread, so far, seems to be permitting free and open discourse on the subject raised. We’ll have to see how much longer that persists. I fear a few more interested in bringing it to a speedy conclusion (though I have found, recently in fact, that the most eloquent exposure of the bullies, trolls, adhominids, strawmannerists, cherry pickers, etc, are actually provided in their own writings) may emerge soon and, sadly, a ‘closed for comments’ soon thereafter. The Graun is a little less sensitive to robust exchanges, but does pull the plug, if with a rather ‘variable’ logic. I must pop back to the ‘3 day standard shut down’ threads that still were burbling along after several days when it suited.

    I am excited (if that is quite the word) that the author has seen fit to engage, albeit by proxy. Welcome, but rare. Equally with the Graun. I am hoping for an answer to what was after all, two factual questions citing published (or hoiked in one case) BBC material.

    What tends to ‘spoil’ things is when folk get rude and they scarper. As our host has alluded, that can be often more than convenient.

  19. JunkkMale, sorry it was my own raising of the BBC thread which I thought was slightly OT; I could have phrased that better.

    The term “adhominid” – I like it; indeed a very vocal and aggressive sub-species!

  20. Small flame war between moderator and two Guardian writers last night. Not many dead. On the thread following this article
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/17/global-warming-environment-west-waste
    a comment by english hermit was deleted, with the usual message: “This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted”.
    What made it interesting was that english hermit has a “C for contributor” next to his name, indicating someone who writes for the paper. Luckily, other commenters quoted largely from the removed comment, including MartyninEurope, another Guardian writer. English hermit said, in part:

    …. The only solution that I can see is brutal, harsh and cruel. It means identifying those who cannot or will not change and when the time comes, exterminating them. When the survival of the human race is at stake, it will have to be done….

    To which MartyninEurope replied: “As well as not being desirable IMHO it’s also not practical” adding an elliptical remark suggesting that most of “those who cannot or will not change” are American, and couldn’t be exterminated because they are too well armed.
    When I went back a few hours later, all comments referring to english hermit had been, not simply deleted, but wiped from the thread, as if they never existed. So there is no record of two Guardian writers discussing whether it would be sensible or practical to exterminate people who don’t agree with them.
    English hermit is 62, gives his real name as Gandalf the Red, Gold and Green, and lists his interests as Ents, elves, and magic rings. I wouldn’t leave him alone with saplings in my arboretum, that’s for sure.

  21. geoffchambers says:
    October 17th, 2010 at 10:30 am

    I know this thread is Grauncentric, so forgive the OT, but things are heating up everywhere, and not in a good way.

    I am in a mini flame war of my own, not with some scary trolls (who really deserve it, but there really is no point lowering to their level), but with the BBC blog mods who seem to indulge every sociopath who they can invite on to get a dodgy thread closed down asap, whilst House Ruling legitimate posters are referred or deleted for ‘saying things my Aunty might not like’, and other bizarre excuses which they have dredged up from the ‘Beware of the Leopard’ catch-all files.

    It’s getting silly, and dirty.

  22. junkkmale
    have you got a link for your BBC flame war? I saw you mentioned it on omniclimate (I imagine it”s the same one).

  23. Gaurdian contributor englishhermit is a rather interesting soul, is he not? Although his run-in with the mods has been expunged from history, you can see from his profile that there’s a related comment of his on a different thread that survives (about the 10th one down):

    “… I would like to see an article about the government’s plans to deal with the aftermath of an eco-collapse when there will be insufficient resources to support the whole population.”

    If you read ‘The Secret State’ by Professor Peter Hennessey which gives a chilling account of plans for survival after a nuclear war in the fifties, you will understand the thinking that may govern policy in the event of eco-collapse.

    In the fifties and sixties, plans were drawn up so that those who were unable or unwilling to work would be abandoned, left to starve with no medical treatment for their injuries or, if fortunate, put out of their misery with a bullet in the head. It would not have been a matter of choice. It would have been a matter of necessity.

    Watch ‘The War Game’ by Peter Watkins if you don’t believe me.

    It is likely that similar plans have already been drawn up in Whitehall to deal with the aftermath of the impending eco-collapse.

    Peter Hennessey is the ideal person to write about this authoritatively…”

    You know, with all the talk of eco-collapse, nuclear war and Lord of the Rings, I’m having flashbacks to an earlier epoch. There’s a quote by anthropologist Bernard James (at the risk of veering even further OT, I found it here in an interesting book review from 2008), and it’s from his 1973 book The Death of Progress: “there [was] a sense of desperation in the air, a sense that man has been pitchforked by science and technology into a new and precarious age.”

    And that was thirty years ago; thirty years from now, what are the odds that “eco-collapse” will be just as imminent and yet elusive as it is now, or was in the 1970s?

  24. Alex #73
    English hermit’s death fantasies, and the obsession of many Greens with Tolkien and fantasy literature are obviously linked with what ESmith and others have been saying on the Monbiot thread. I’d like to continue this over there when I have time, though I agree with TonyN that certain obvious parallels shouldnt be pursued, unless someone has something truly original and enlightening to offer.

  25. geoffchambers
    October 17th, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    have you got a link for your BBC flame war? I saw you mentioned it on omniclimate (I imagine it”s the same one).

    I am currently engaged in a few ‘terse’ exchanges. but they are mainly with the mods and/or complaints bots (hard to imagine a human could stay sane for long trotting out the same inaccurate, insincere, smug, dismissive tripe each time) behind the threads about their ‘selective’ indulgence of some who are clearly there to provoke and/or drive away ‘normal’ posters and/or wind up a flame exchange that can be used to shut things down.

    This is one example:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/10/bbc_news_coverage_of_san_jose.html

    I decided to bail when I was House Ruled for ‘provocation’, when their House Elf had been the one deployed to target me personally and was allowed to a) pass through modding and b) remained whilst my comment was removed. Note that after he/she/it disgorges a series of barely concealed abuse at any ‘threat’ to the house line, all that is left is supportive pap.

    One thread I am amazed they have yet to get him/her/it onto… yet.. is this one:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/aboutthebbc/2010/10/new-bbc-editorial-guidelines-l.shtml

    Mind you, whilst initially promising, the ‘answers’ are yet to be forthcoming at time of writing.

    I have had a direct, very quick, very snotty reply to a complementary complaint that a diplomatic correspondent took near zero facts and spun it into a highly negative set of views, which were then ‘stealth edited’ when called out, with a classic ‘we think we got it right’ dismissal.

    I have decided to move this up the line.

    Bad enough that a reporter tries prefers undermining with clearly agenda driven opinion, but for the ‘system’ to reckon it’s OK to print tripe and then quietly ‘evolve’ it retroactively to cover up once the misinformation damage is done is risible. The munchkin who wrote even tried to claim that as the timestamp changed, that clearly showed ‘a’ change had been made. Which meant it was not ‘stealth’.

    That mentality would set an interesting precedent if you can say or write whatever you want, but it’s all OK if you pop back and erase that later. Makes the ‘corrections’ of headlines that are printed (at least with these what was printed before as wrong is revealed) on p45 pale in comparison.

    The gut-wrenching thing is I am very environmentally concerned, but find the science/engineering ‘reporting’ and agenda-driven editorial of too many publications or broadcasters to be counter-productive to rational discussion and progression. Further, I am currently more concerned about the attempted crushing of free speech in the name of green (or anything else) than I am future climate ‘threats’. A future under the control of those who believe they have a mandate to dominate because ‘they care for the planet’, one presumes more than anyone else, or else, is not one I favour.

    Using the bizarre rationale some BBC ‘defenders’ use, I find myself accused of being a ‘warmist” on a Delingpole and a ‘denier’ on a Black or Graun thread, so by some twisted logic could be seen as doing ‘something’ balanced.

    I’m afraid for a credible MSMedium that won’t cut it. And should not be allowed to do so.

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