Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I have no use for people who censor and ban those who don’t agree with their scientific ideas. I’ve had my simple, on-topic, scientific comments censored over at RealClimate. And I’m banned at Tamino’s ”Closed Mind” blog for asking one too many unwanted questions. I really, really didn’t like either experience at all.
Given that, what was up with my snipping opposing views on my thread called “A Matter of Some Gravity“? I did two things in that thread. I offered up a proof that no possible mechanism involving a transparent, GHG-free atmosphere could raise the temperature of a planet above its theoretical Stefan-Boltzmann temperature. I also put out a call for “elevator speeches” explaining the “gravito-thermal” theories of Nikolov and Zeller (N&Z) and Hans Jelbring. An “elevator speech” is a very condensed, very boiled-down description of how something works. It is how you would explain something if you only had the length of an elevator ride to do so.
A closeup of the fabled “Secateurs of Sorrow”, allegedly used during the 2012 “Night of the Long Scissors”. PHOTO SOURCE
Well, actually I did three things in that thread, not two. I snipped out a whole bunch of comments. Oh, it was no surprise, although people acted like it was, because I had announced in the head post that I would do exactly that. But why would I snip comments, when I’m so opposed to censorship?
Therein lies a tale …
This all got started when Roger “Tallbloke” Tattersall, the proprietor of a skeptical climate blog called “Tallbloke’s Talkshop”, banned Joel Shore from posting at the Talkshop. Why? I’ll let Roger the Tallbloke tell it:
… you’re not posting here unless and until you apologise to Nikolov and Zeller for spreading misinformation about conservation of energy in their theory all over the blogosphere and failing to correct it.
OK, Joel Shore was banned for spreading misinformation that N&Z violated conservation of energy. Now, this was a double blow to me. First, it was a blow because the Talkshop is a skeptical site, and for a skeptical site to ban someone for “heretical” scientific beliefs, that doesn’t help things at all.
Second, I had also been going around the blogosphere and saying that the N&Z hypothesis violated conservation of energy. I had done exactly what Joel had done.
Don’t get me wrong here. Joel is not a friend of mine, nor an enemy of any kind. He and I disagree on many things, because he’s an AGW supporter and I’m a climate heretic. In addition, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and he can be obstinate about what he considers to be basic science. So I understand that he’s not the best houseguest, although I’m hardly one to talk. But we agree on this particular scientific question.
So, I posted a comment on the “Suggestions” thread over at the Talkshop asking Roger to rescind his fatwa on Joel. I pointed out that I had done the same thing as Joel, and thus in good conscience I would have to leave as well. I said that Joel is a physicist and as such is one of the few anthropogenic global warming (AGW) supporting scientists willing to engage on the skeptical blogs to defend the AGW position. From memory (I can’t go back to check) I said I enjoy it when Joel comments on my posts, because his science-fu is generally good. Yes, I disagree with him a lot, and yes, he can be a jerk (quite unlike myself), but he shows up on skeptical sites and will take the time to defend his science. Not many AGW scientists you can say that about.
Regardless of my importunings, Roger remained unmoved. So (at his very reasonable suggestion) he and I took it offline to an email discussion. I continued to plead my case and to ask him to recant the Orwellian Heresy. I enjoy visiting the Talkshop, Roger is a good guy, I didn’t want to have to leave.
In our discussion, I said that I doubted greatly if he could even give me a clear, concise, meaty scientific summary of N&Z’s theory, an “elevator speech” on the subject sufficient to see if it did violate conservation of energy. He refused to have anything to do with the idea, I believe partly because in his lexicon an “elevator speech” was a sales tool. I assured him that no, no sale necessary, I meant something different. All I wanted was for him to boil down his own thoughts and understandings to a clear precise few sentences explaining the theory, so we could see if N&Z did violate conservation of energy.
He refused. I could see he was unshakeable.
Hmmm … I was left with a bit of a koan. I wanted to see if I could fomally show that N&Z violated conservation of energy. I wanted to see if there was anyone out there who actually understood either the Jelbring or N&Z hypotheses and could explain them to me. And finally, I wanted to keep the issue of censorship alive, not just on WUWT, but at the Talkshop as well … and how could do I do that when I can’t comment at the Talkshop? I wanted it kept alive because banning someone when they say your pet idea violates scientific laws is a Very Bad Idea™—bad for the skeptics, bad for science, bad for progress, bad for everyone.
So I fear I set a trap for Tallbloke. Yeah, I know, I probably shouldn’t have done that, and I’ve likely blown my chance for eternal salvation, although there are those who would deny I ever had one, but I gotta confess, that’s what I did, and there you have it.
First, I thought up and I wrote up and posted a formal proof that the N&Z theory violates conservation of energy. I think it’s actually quite a clever proof.
Then I made a call for either elevator speeches, or for falsifications of my proof. I said didn’t want anything else but those two things, and I said that I would snip off-topic responses, because I wanted to keep the thread on track and on topic. I wanted to see if anyone could falsify my proof, and I wanted elevator speeches, and I wasn’t interested in diversions or declarations or anything but those two things.
So that was the background and the scenery for the trap. What did I put out as bait in my hunting of the snark?
Right at the end of the post, as kind of a throwaway bit, I mentioned that since I’d said N&Z violated conservation of energy, and Joel Shore was banned for doing the same thing, I considered myself banned at Tallbloke’s as well. And I do consider myself banned until he rescinds it. I knew he would react to that.
What else? Oh, yeah, the final touch, I was particularly proud of this one. I posted a link to the N&Z paper and a subsequent discussion paper on WUWT. And then I talked about the Jelbring paper, but I didn’t link to it. I knew that Tallbloke had a copy of it posted up at the Talkshop, and I was hoping he would provide the link.
Then I sat back and waited and tended my fishing lines. True to form, people wanted to make all kinds of random comments. I snipped them. People wanted to post their own pet theories. I snipped them, I’d specified no pet theories. People wanted to school me on some meaningless point. I snipped them. People wanted to complain about being snipped. I snipped their complaints. Off-topic, sorry. People wanted to re-post some off-topic thing I’d snipped. I snipped it again.
Very few of the responses were what I had asked for. Shocking, I know, but getting WUWT folks to follow a request is like herding cats. Make that herding feral cats. On third thought, make that herding feral cats on PCP.
And I’d counted on that. I merrily snipped anything that was not an elevator speech or a falsification of my proof, and watched my fishing lines.
Predictably, when Roger showed up at the party, he was not a happy man. He posted a comment containing a whole mix of stuff, little of which had anything to do with either an elevator speech or a falsification of my proof, although there was a bit of science in the mix.
I happily snipped it, science and all. I believe he has it posted over at the Talkshop to prove my perfidy. In any case, at this point it’s been restored on the thread for all to read.
Of course, Roger reasonably and strongly protested the censorship. I said repost the science if you think I snipped serious stuff. He reposted the science, minus the various off-topic things he’d included before, and we discussed it.
Then, as I was hoping against hope, he noticed that there was no link to the poor Jelbring paper. I’d left Hans out in the cold. So as I had hoped, Tallbloke posted a link to where the Jelbring paper is posted at the Talkshop.
I snipped that as well, explaining that there was no way he was going to use my thread to send traffic to the Talkshop …
Well, that seriously frosted his banana. He hadn’t even thought of driving traffic to his site, he just wanted to give people a link to the paper. To be falsely accused like that put his knickers in a right twist.
So I snipped for a bit longer to keep up the charade, didn’t want to stop immediately and give away the game, then I went to bed … in the morning I stopped snipping, and let the thread go on its merry way, diversions and pet theories and all the rest.
The response was beyond my wildest hopes. Tallbloke set up a whole blog page at the Talkshop where he is faithfully chronicling my evil misdeeds of snippage. I haven’t read it ’cause I won’t go there until Joel is unbanned, but I can hardly wait to hear the description of carnage and bloodletting, starring yours truly as Willis the Merciless, ruthlessly wielding my mighty Fiskars of Doom …
In any case, I was overjoyed to hear that, it was better than I could have expected. Instead of being discussed somewhere like the “Suggestions” thread at Tallblokes Talkshop, I had a whole thread wherein people can abuse censorship in its myriad forms. Oh, they’ll be abusing me too, but as long as they are also abusing censorship I figure that is a small price to pay.
Overall? I’d rate the whole thing as pretty successful. I probably should have stopped snipping a bit earlier than I did, I underestimated the effect, so likely I overcooked the loaf a bit, but that’s better than leaving it raw. And I did manage to keep the issue alive at the Talkshop. I figured that if the Talkshop got filled with people abusing me for censorship, that the issue of censorship would be alive and well there. And not only would the issue be alive, but people at the Talkshop would be cursing censorship … whereas if the censorship issue were alive but the topic was Tallbloke’s banning of Joel Shore, people at the Talkshop would be saying that Tallbloke did the right thing to ban him. I hoped to achieve that, but I never thought I’d get my own thread. I count that as a huge win, to get people at the Talkshop to curse and discuss censorship without my going there at all.
As I’ve said before, people who think I am so overcome by my passions that I start madly snipping, or that I get so angry that I go off wildly ranting about something or someone, mistake me entirely. I am a complex and subtle man, and I’m generally playing a long game. Folks who see me as someone who unpredictably erupts in a rant underestimate me to their cost. My rants are all very carefully chosen and calculated, I have a clear, defined, and usually different purpose for each one, and my aim is to weigh and ponder each word and each tone and shading and to consider what they will do and what people will do in response. People who go ‘we’re all offended, how can you say those things, how can you snip people’ miss the point. I say and I do those things to get people interested, to rile them into telling the truth, to get them to state their own ideas, to push them to be upset and passionate about what they believe in, to give them the space and permission to be outraged themselves, and to get them to reveal to the world either the fragility or the strength of their understanding.
I don’t mind being over-the-top because my position shelters people who take other, less extreme positions. Compared to me, they look very reasonable … and folks haven’t figured out yet that those more moderate positions are quite acceptable to me and in many cases were what I was hoping for. I don’t mind being the lightning rod to make a point. I have no problem pushing and steering hard to one side, with the clear internal goal of attaining a position in the middle. I have no difficulty staking out a radical position. It allows others to take much less radical positions than I took, positions that they might not have otherwise expressed. Yes, I’m extreme, and that is deliberate.
I don’t mean that my upset or my anger are fake. They are never fake, or I could not write as I do—my passion would not be believed if it were false or contrived. I mean that I choose the time and the method of expressing that upset and anger so that I can harness it to achieve a chosen purpose or outcome.
So, I’m willing to call people out. I say hey, if you can’t explain it in an elevator speech, it you don’t understand it. I know that’s unpopular, but I take that position as a conscious choice. I’m tired of people nodding their heads about absolute scientific nonsense and saying “looks good to me”. So I insist and I nag them to take a hard look at what they are espousing.
For example, Tallbloke banned Joel Shore (and myself by extension) because Joel had the temerity to say what I say, that the N&Z theory violates conservation of energy. In response I asked TB (a number of times by now, first in private and then on my thread) to give me his elevator speech outlining the Nikolov/Zeller theory. He has not done so. I say that is evidence that he doesn’t understand the N&Z theory he is espousing. If he understood the theory and the theory was scientifically solid, he’d squash me like a bug. I’m way out on a limb here, if Tallbloke could saw the limb off he would. And I wouldn’t blame him, he’s not happy with me right now, and with reason. Since he hasn’t sawed the limb off by giving me the crushing elevator speech, he doesn’t understand the theory.
But if he doesn’t understand the N&Z theory … why is he banning Joel (and myself by extension) for saying the theory violates conservation of energy?
Like all of my actions in my posts, the pushing of people to explain their views in an elevator speech, even to the extent of snipping their posts when they didn’t do so, is a position and an action that I have taken with forethought and contemplation. And no, it doesn’t make me popular. But I’m steering to one side in order to attain the middle. I don’t expect others to call for someone to give an elevator speech, but that’s not my goal. I figure if I can reinforce the value of judging people’s understanding of a topic by whether they can explain the theory in a clear, concise manner … then who cares if I’m popular? I’m tired of vague handwaving. Boil it down to the elevator speech, then boil it again to half that size, and give us the simplest, clearest explanation possible.
In any case, the beat goes on. I’m still waiting for someone, anyone, to give us a clear, concise, scientific explanation of either the N&Z or the Jelbring hypothesis. I’m also still waiting for anyone to falsify my proof. You’re welcome to do it in this thread.
While I’m waiting, I’ve given up my persona of evil snippage, I’ve sworn off my temporary assumption of wicked ways. I’ve climbed down from the saddle and hung up my scissors with their embossed leather holster beside the gunrack near the wood stove. I’ve made my point, I won’t need them until danger threatens again. Sorry, Tallbloke, but your blow-by-blow account of how I feloniously threatened and terrified the neighborhood with my dreaded Scissors of Destiny will have to come to a premature end … they’ve served their purpose, and been put out to pasture.
To close this tangled tale, what about the thread title, thanks and apologies? Well, first my apologies to Roger “Tallbloke” Tattersall for my having played such a shabby trick on him. He is a good, honest, and decent man whose problem is that his mouth wrote a check that his science can’t cover. Roger, you have my apology, seriously meant. I just couldn’t think of another better way to keep the question alive. Please do rescind your ban on Joel.
Next, my apologies to Anthony. He and I don’t correspond a whole lot, and I didn’t warn him because I didn’t expect the amount of blowback. So I fear he got an email instalanche of people saying I’d lost my mind. Didn’t think about that, missed that one entirely, didn’t I? Mea culpa, Anthony, my bad. Folks, in the future, as I implied above, if the options are a) Willis has lost the plot totally, email Anthony immediately, or b) Willis has a plan I don’t see yet, wait a while … the answer is likely “b”. Give poor Anthony a break.
To all of the folks who screamed about being snipped, my thanks and my apologies. I did it for a couple reasons. One was to emphasize that I was serious about people giving an elevator speech. I tried to snip only what I had said I would—off-topic stuff that was neither an elevator speech nor falsification of my post. If they wanted to stand up and be counted they had to put their beliefs down clear and solid. I pushed it very hard, probably too hard for my own good, to see if anyone out there actually understood either the Jelbring or the N&Z theory. Turns out no one does, or if they do, they’re hiding their light under a bushel.
Heck, even Hans Jelbring showed up. He refused to give us a clear, concise statement of his theory, claiming that there was no way to state his theory in less than pages and pages of close-spaced text. Riiiight … if you can’t explain it clearly you don’t understand it.
The other reason I snipped was to emphasize the importance of the freedom to post that we take for granted here at WUWT. One of the issues I wanted to keep afloat was that of censorship. I wanted that fact not to be lost in the discussion, I wanted it to be one of the subjects of the thread as well … yeah, I might’ve overdone it, you’re right, but at least I dun it …
Next, my thanks. First, my thanks to people like Steven Mosher, who said he didn’t see any problems with my proof, and commented that it seemed hard for people to follow simple directions on what to post. For those like Steven who did follow my requests on what to post, to those who took a shot at falsification or elevator speeches, my thanks.
Also, for those that didn’t follow directions, you were necessary to set the scene, so thank you for playing your part.
Anthony, once again, my thanks for your magnificent blog, and for the freedom that you give me to post here without let, hindrance, or forewarning of disaster.
Finally, Roger Tallbloke, my thanks again to you. I was not my intention to harm you, but to keep alive both on this site and on your site the question of the ethics of your ban.
… and at the end, the curtain falls, the crowd departs. Ushers clean the seats, roadies pack up the trusses and the amps as the auditorium closes down, and all that is left is a proof that the N&Z theory violates conservation of energy, and a huge lack of people who understand either the Jelbring or the Nikolov and Zeller hypotheses. It’s a lovely cold, clear night here, and me and my beloved, my ex-fiancee of thirty plus years now, are going for a walk. I wish everyone the joy of living in this miraculous, marvel-filled eternity, with my thanks and my apologies.