The ScAm Gets Worse—An Open Letter To Bora Zivkovic

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Dear Bora;

I know, I know, like many people I didn’t think it was possible for Scientific American magazine to sink any lower. I loved Scientific American as a kid, the “Amateur Scientist” column was a godsend on the ranch. But then, slowly your magazine morphed, first into less-science, then non-science, then non-sense, and then finally anti-science. I (like many people) quit reading the magazine years ago. Your hatchet job on Bjorn Lomborg, for example, was disgraceful. For me these days Scientific American is known by its shortened name, ScAm.

But now, it’s even worse. You, Bora Zivkovic, write a blog titled A Blog Around The Clock: Rhythms of Life in Meatspace and Cyberland. And who are you when you are at home? Your mini-bio on ScAm says:

bora zivkovicBora Zivkovic is the Blog Editor at Scientific American, chronobiologist, biology teacher, organizer of ScienceOnline conferences and editor of Open Laboratory anthologies of best science writing on the Web.

There’s more there, you’re not just a blogger, you’re the Blog Editor, and you teach introductory biology, not the advanced kind, at Wesleyan College. Got it.

And on the 28th of January, you took all of us low-lifes to task on your blog. You say some commenters are a problem, and your solution to the problem of inconsiderate people asking scientific questions on a ScAm blog is quite simple:

Automatic Computer-model-based Censorship. 

I can only bow my head in awe. I mean, what better way is there to keep you from answering people from WUWT and other sites who might want answers to actual scientific questions, than not allowing them to speak at all? Let me give other readers a glimpse into the future of scientific discussion, your brilliant plan for hands-off blog censorship … here it is, and as you explained, it involves computer models (emphasis mine)

If I write about a wonderful weekend mountain trek, and note I saw some flowers blooming earlier than they used to bloom years ago, then a comment denying climate change is trolling. I am a biologist, so I don’t write specifically about climate science as I do not feel I am expert enough for that. So, I am gradually teaching my spam filter to automatically send to spam any and every comment that contains the words “warmist”, “alarmist”, “Al Gore” or a link to Watts. A comment that contains any of those is, by definition, not posted in good faith. By definition, it does not provide additional information relevant to the post. By definition, it is off-topic. By definition, it contains erroneous information. By definition, it is ideologically motivated, thus not scientific. By definition, it is polarizing to the silent audience. It will go to spam as fast I can make it happen.

See, Bora, the beauty of your plan is, you don’t even have to think about censorship once you do that. The computer does the hard work for you, rooting out and destroying evil thoughtcrimes coming from … from … well, from anyone associated with Watts Up With That, or with Steven McIntyre’s blog Climate Audit, or anyone that you might disagree with, or who is concerned about “alarmists”, you just put them on the list and Presto!

No more inconvenient questions!

The beauty part is, censorship in that manner isn’t personal or based on prejudices, it’s gotta be 100% scientific—because hey, it’s based on a computer model, and the modelers constantly assure us that model-based science is the real deal. For example, a noted advocate of computer models and transparency in science posted this insightful comment in support of your fascinating proposal for secret hidden computer-model-based censorship of unwelcome views …

mann tweety birdAstroturf pay-4-trolling outfits? I gotta say, Mann has lost the plot entirely. He’s sounding like one of those goofy ads on the insides of matchbook covers, “DON’T MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY—Make Money With Your Computer At Home While You’re Trolling!!! Call 1-800-ASTROTURF now!”

I swear, there’s no way to parody this stuff, Bora. You and Mike, you’ve truly outdone yourselves, your idea of computer-model-based censorship is worthy of the modern ScAm you work for.

The sight of a so called “scientific” magazine advocating for hidden censorship based on where someone might comment or their saying the word “alarmist” or where they might find some particular fact, well, that is an abomination, Bora. It makes me fear for the students at Wesleyan College. Do you turn people away from your classes as well for disagreeing with your revealed wisdom, or because they may have read my biology piece about extinctions on WUWT?

Unlike your pathologically computer-censored blog, here at WUWT we just ignore the jerks, or I metaphorically beat them severely about the head and shoulders for bad behavior … but we don’t censor them for reading or citing your or any other web site, ever.

So how about you have the stones to do the same, my friend, and you stop hiding behind your pathological computer models from folks who read or cite this web site?

Finally, Bora, you are (of course) free to comment below on my open letter and defend your position. Unlike your site, where I could invisibly be made a non-person and my ideas prevented from ever seeing the light, here at WUWT we actually DO preach and practice science of the old-fashioned, transparent kind, where even the advocates of hidden, under-the-table censorship like yourself and Michael Mann are free to comment. And if we do snip someone’s particular comment for being a jerkwagon, we note that fact, we don’t just sweep them under the rug like you do.

I won’t be surprised if you don’t show up to defend the indefensible, however. I’d be a fool to expect that kind of honesty and forthrightness from a man who secretly destroys unwanted questions from his scientific opponents …

But I invite you to surprise me, my friend, I’m always overjoyed to see a man moving to become an actual scientist, one who listens to and answers inconvenient questions from his scientific opponents … heck, who knows, you might just learn something.

Of course, I am aware that no one will be able to cite this open letter on your blog, you’ve erased that possibility already … gosh, that’s science at its finest, Bora.

How do you justify this to yourself?

Has noble cause corruption really affected your moral compass to that extent, that you not only invisibly censor people whose scientific views differ from your own, but you actually attempt, not just a pathetic justification of that underhanded action, but an even more pathetic and anti-scientific celebration and and advocacy of such hidden censorship? These questions and more, I invite your answers.

My regards to you, Bora … and I’m totally serious about your sneaky, invisible trashing of people’s comments based on where people post and what they might cite—your kind of cowardly hidden censorship is absolutely antithetical to science, as is conclusively proven by Michael Mann’s approval of your plan.

w.

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I’d phrase it “To these questions and more…”
And I certainly would like to see answers!
(Not some Mannish defense of Al Gore
Nor more faux-angel pinhead dancers.)
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

I protest! 🙂 This is a blog about science, why is there a story about the current SciAm which is so short on science?
More seriously, thanks. I have mental notes about a web page lamenting about what SciAm has degraded into and fondly remember when it was full of articles about science that was not quite on the cutting edge but ready for a sizable article presenting the science to laymen and students alike.
And, of course, Martin Gardner and Jerel (sp) Walker.

Well done Willis, but as usual, through one ear and out the other as the saying goes. ScAm failed a long time ago now.

Niff

Categorical censorship.

Mike Bromley the Canucklehead in Cowburg

Having the stones? Old Borat (Did I say that?) is a fine example of the craft. I just finished reading NatGeo’s recent article on Fracking, and boy, that should outta get a 10 at SkS, and ScAm as well. I can hear Mann’s cervical vertebrae crunching in approval from here. There was even a picture of hapless roughnecks handling pipe as “oil and natural gas SPEWED from the well”…funny, I’ve never seen that, ever. Usually, they are running away when that happens…handling pipe becomes a pesky sideshow when your life is endangered.
I’m actually surprised it took Borat and his ilk this long to apply a trolling filter. They must have gotten bored hurling insults.

Another demonstration of mental laziness, just train your computer to do your thinking for you!
I have to remind my wife that the computer is just a dumb machine that does exactly what you tell it to do. It does not think! It has no idea of the rightness of its’ output. Only people have judgement, well at least some of them do. 😉 pg

Well done, Willis. Will Bora know it’s here? Does he junk his emails as well as his blog comments (if you sent an email)?
It should make him think about his decisions. It’s no bad thing to have awkward comments or difficult questions. A scientist should be able to answer and respect all contributors. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking straight. Perhaps what he thought of as an easy solution will sit uncomfortably with him. I hope so.
I’ve learned something extra with this whole climate debate, I’ve learned where the adults are and where the kids are. You can tell the adults from the kids by their behaviour. Fascinating.

Jeff Alberts

I can hear Bora saying “Vat you talkin’ ’bout, Villis?”

philincalifornia

Bora Zivkovic is the Blog Editor at Scientific American, chronobiologist, biology teacher, organizer of ScienceOnline conferences and editor of Open Laboratory anthologies of best science writing on the Web.
———————–
Or, in other words, a spectacularly failed scientist.
Well done Bora. I hope your Mom’s proud of you.

Kurt in Switzerland

Bravo, Willis.
That needed saying.
Amazing that Bora doesn’t see his own unscientific prejudice!
Kurt in Switzerland

Snake Oil Baron

Well in Bora’s defence, WUWT can afford to leave critical comments up because they are easy to rebut and don’t make the site look foolish. Having the truth on your side makes it an unlevelled playing field.

He will not be moved, of course. Speak of categorical thinking! We are witches, and he will brand us with a scarlet letter al gore rhythm.

Severian

Orwell was an optimist.
I too am shocked at what the Scientific American of my youth has degenerated into, I wouldn’t line my bird cage with it, that would constitute animal abuse.

trafamadore

“and you teach introductory biology, not the advanced kind, at Wesleyan College. Got it.”
Hmmm, I really wonder if you “got it”. That means he’s a talented teacher; the ones that teach the advanced courses are usually the new guys, not so good at saying things in an interesting manner, etc. But you meant to complement him, right?
“any and every comment that contains the words “warmist”, “alarmist”, “Al Gore” or a link to Watts…..you don’t even have to think about censorship once you do that.”
Whatever. I have been “mod”ed on this site for nothing other than mentioning that word that starts with “Din” and ends with “ialist”. A computer would work the same.
[Reply: Read the site Policy. You are not special. — mod.]

Well said Willis. The last issue, of ScAm that I purchased was the issue that did a hatchet job on Bjorn Lomborg. Having read Lomborg’s book, I was so mad I never bought another issue, though I will admit thumbing it in the supermarket to see if they changed their strips, but alas they have only gotten worse. Like you, I grew up with Scientific American, it was one of my first stops in the Library.

DaveA

Credit where it’s due, a post containing “Al Gore” is not likely to hold much scientific value.

A couple things.
1. I have had a comment snipped at WUWT for pointing out that a chart was produced by a model.
ehh. nobodies perfect.
2. If ou want to have fun with his computerized comment control, say the same thing using different words. That would be hugely funny and who knows may lead to the invention of new terms for alarmists and warmist. Think of it as a challenge to be creative.
REPLY: Mosher, your point 1 isn’t fully true as written. As I recall the decision, it had to do with the fact that after you pointed out the model/chart thingy, you then launched into an off-topic rant about how people that don’t get it should be talking about it here. You seemed to miss the distinction that synoptic models and climate models are entirely different animals. I use and trust synoptic models every day, because they constantly get better as they are rapidly tuned by comparison of output to reality. There’s a strong feedback for improving the code/skill and and the science behind it.
Climate models tend to be more open ended…not so much skill/feedback improvements go on because of the time scale issues, so they tend to be less accurate, and slow to get better. Synoptic models tend to do well with short term linearity (persistence) with specific weather variable but climate models don’t fare as well due to the larger number of variables and the breakdown of linearity (chaos) over long time scales. In your comment you said you can’t reject one type of model and trust another and went into some over the top off topic chiding. That was a mistake on your part.
Your comments sometimes get a bit angry and condescending, that was one of them. In my opinion, WUWT moderation did you a favor. – Anthony

“…So, I am gradually teaching my spam filter to automatically send to spam any and every comment that contains the words…“Al Gore”…By definition, it does not provide additional information relevant to the post…”
And this happens after Al Gore goes through all that trouble to re-introduce his web site, “Climate Drop”.
After all, Bora Zivkovic said it best: “…By definition, it contains erroneous information…” Especially if Al Gore was involved.

Lew Skannen

“send to spam any and every comment that contains the words “warmist”, “alarmist”, “Al Gore” ”
Tee hee. Poor old Al is probably wondering why none of his comments ever get published on ScAm.
🙂

Last time I looked at ScAm at the newsstand about a decade ago, it already looked like a puzzle book: “Spot the Science”.

Erin Shanahan DMD

His motivation is simple…it’s fear…. If you spend much time on blogs like his, especially as a bystander/reader that doesn’t comment, you start to recognize the insults. Then the ad hom and the vitriol become clear while the science seems foggy. So you click on the links people provide. Eventually you’ll end up on WUWT. On this site you see you don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree. He fears those that will end up here will stay here and if you stay here very long he will lose you. I even sensed Nick Stokes was having a change of heart yesterday. Thanks Anthony for your hard work, kindness, and belief in science.

atarsinc

I guarantee censorship happens at WUWT every single day. You even call it “snipping”. JP
REPLY: Question. Do you allow people to come into your home and yell insults or angry rants at you? Or, do you show them the door? Yes some comments that don’t meet site policy do get snipped here. Compare our site policy it to some other blogs (Like Greg Laden’s – see commenting policy) and it is quite fair. We also don’t go out of our way to trumpet in an essay how we will block specific people as Bora did.
WUWT is approaching a million comments now, 992,107 as of this writing, so I’ll say that success speaks volumes, and anonymous angry whiners, not so much. You are most welcome to be as upset as you wish. – Anthony

My brief tenure as writer of “The Amateur Scientist” for Scientific American when it was still a great magazine led directly to a Rolex Award and my 23-years of using homemade instruments to monitor the ozone layer, solar UV-B, aerosol optical depth and total column water vapor (the main greenhouse gas). Details and data are at http://www.forrestmims.org.

atarsinc

So the Mod. says “read the site policy”. What’s the difference? SciAm just uses a computer to enforce the “policy”. At least the computer isn’t biased. The Mod’s, well…not so much. JP

REPLY:
The computer isn’t capable of bias, but the computer programmer is. In this case the bias comes from the programmer. Computers can’t read context well, humans can and can make a decision based on the context. Big difference. – Anthony

BTW: Did you spot my comments at #50 and #51?
Blew his boat out of the water regarding “free speech” concepts, etc.
Comments survived … one without any contra-argument.

BillyV

Well, I have finally just let National Geographic subscription lapse as I can’t support their stance with regard to AGW and related topics anymore. Been subscriber for 45+ years and have finally had it. Left Scientific American few years ago on similar basis where science was subverted to policy. I enjoyed them very much over the years but now their editorial policy makes me quite ill and their value in, and with regard to- “Science” is not tenable. Takes a lot to get me in this framework, but they finally reached “the tipping point”.

intrepid_wanders

trafamadore says:
March 5, 2013 at 9:31 pm
Hmmm, I really wonder if you “got it”. That means he’s a talented teacher; the ones that teach the advanced courses are usually the new guys, not so good at saying things in an interesting manner, etc. But you meant to complement him, right?

Wow… just amazingly WOW… you know, this kind of thought process explains a lot. So, when one does their thesis, they just go back to Biology 101 to get mentored by Bora… cool, thanks for letting us know that is where the talent is kept.

Justthinkin

reply to traframadore….[Reply: Read the site Policy. You are not special. — mod.] I disagree. It is especially ignorant,and not even a -D troll. ScAM. I wonder what some of my Dad’s old 1950’s issues say? Gonna have to check that.

Willis Eschenbach

trafamadore says:
March 5, 2013 at 9:31 pm

“and you teach introductory biology, not the advanced kind, at Wesleyan College. Got it.”

Hmmm, I really wonder if you “got it”. That means he’s a talented teacher; the ones that teach the advanced courses are usually the new guys, not so good at saying things in an interesting manner, etc. But you meant to complement him, right?

No, I knew that. When I want to find a really top man in a field, I just go to the nearest small college and ask who’s teaching the most basic course in that field … that’s the man I want for a really hard problem.
w.

I’m really annoyed that I can’t seem to figure out how to get in on those sweet sweet Koch dollars that these yahoos keep yammering on about. I need to stop posting for free!

Willis Eschenbach

Forrest M. Mims III says:
March 5, 2013 at 9:57 pm

My brief tenure as writer of “The Amateur Scientist” for Scientific American when it was still a great magazine led directly to a Rolex Award and my 23-years of using homemade instruments to monitor the ozone layer, solar UV-B, aerosol optical depth and total column water vapor (the main greenhouse gas). Details and data are at http://www.forrestmims.org.

Damn, you’re that Forrest Mims? Well done, my friend, and to your predecessor as well, that’s where I learned to build a Hilsh Vortex Tube and a Wilson cloud chamber. That was my favorite column, even including “Mathematical Recreations”. Must be sad for you to see how the mighty have fallen …
w.

John Gardner

Nice work (yet again) Willis. BTW – how smart is this ScAm spam filter? Someone could have a lot of fun (and create a lot of extra work for Bora and his helpers) by sending comments to the ScAm blog by using non-standard spelling of words like “de-nier” and “w@rmist”! In fact someone with fairly basic programming skills could easily create an algorithm to constantly vary the spelling of these key words in any comment they send to the ScAm blog, which could drive Bora nuts! Likewise I’m sure there are ways to fool the filter with respect to Watts references, too. Long live free speech.

Forrest Mims! I remember your work!
Long ago, when the mag didn’t smirk
You had helped make them great
Sadly, not true of late
To encounter you live is a perk!
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

Willis Eschenbach

A.D. Everard says:
March 5, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Well done, Willis. Will Bora know it’s here? Does he junk his emails as well as his blog comments (if you sent an email)?

WUWT is amazing, because everyone seriously interested in climate science reads it, as do many people peripherally interested in climate science, plus those just interested in the puzzling things of life. The skeptics read it to keep informed. The AGW supporters read it to see what nuts like me are up to now, it’s amusing for them if nothing else.
In addition, there’s only six degrees of separation between people or something. Someone will point it out to him.
My conclusion? He will most definitely read it, if he doesn’t see it himself someone will send him a link.

It should make him think about his decisions. It’s no bad thing to have awkward comments or difficult questions. A scientist should be able to answer and respect all contributors. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking straight. Perhaps what he thought of as an easy solution will sit uncomfortably with him. I hope so.

That’s why I wrote it, to try to push him in that direction.

I’ve learned something extra with this whole climate debate, I’ve learned where the adults are and where the kids are. You can tell the adults from the kids by their behaviour. Fascinating.

It’s been a true education for me as well, I can tell you that.
w.

KR

So this blogger is blocking any reference to WUWT?
Cross-reference; http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/05/lucia-drops-some-reality-on-the-gorebots/, where every comment with a link to Reality Drop is filtered from this blog.
Hmm.
REPLY: Tsk-tsk Mr. Ryan, you left out the all important distinction I wrote in Update 3 here http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/05/lucia-drops-some-reality-on-the-gorebots/:
These aren’t comments from real people, they are bot-generated, so there’s no moral issue with automatically sending them to the bit bucket IMHO.
Note that the link in the bot generated comments is encoded with “clmtr.lt”. Some comment with realitydrop.org would not get filtered because it came from a real person.
Your comment is FAIL on so many levels, but mostly because you self censored the relevant information to try to score a point. Sorry, you lose. – Anthony

Willis Eschenbach

Steven Mosher says:
March 5, 2013 at 9:46 pm

A couple things.
1. I have had a comment snipped at WUWT for pointing out that a chart was produced by a model.

Huh?
I see no connection at all between your one isolated incident, whatever its cause, and the automated and invisible censorship of every comment containing the word “Watts”.
Perhaps you could explain to us exactly how they are similar, and how your post is anything but a lame attempt to assert a false and repugnant moral equivalence between WUWT and ScAm.

ehh. nobodies perfect.

Meaning what? Anything goes, nobody’s perfect, so everything is morally equivalent, and I shouldn’t criticize Bora for secret censorship?
I don’t think so …
w.

Doug UK

Amazing to think that I became a sceptic having been very much an initial believer in AGW because I came to realise that the Climatecsience “team” was guilty of behind the scenes manipulation.
Now in seems that those on the team have been forced into defending their position by overt manipulation.
I see that as progress!
It it is akin to a child putting fingers in ears and going “la la la la la……………..”
How long before more people notice?

Gary Hladik

‘So, I am gradually teaching my spam filter to automatically send to spam any and every comment that contains the words “warmist”, “alarmist”, “Al Gore” or a link to Watts.’
Why stop there? Zivkovic can make a truly effective echo chamber by having his computer randomly replace EVERY incoming Email with one of his own posts from his archives. Presto! Nobody will ever disagree with anything he writes EVER again!
And to complete the effect, he should replace his office walls, floor, and ceiling with mirrors, so he’s always surrounded by his many admirers. Hey, it worked for Michael Mann! 🙂

aubrey kohn

Watts appears to censor geoengineering topics. Sauce. Goose. Gander.
REPLY: Untrue, we have several posts on geoengineering here, in fact we even have a whole category for it http://wattsupwiththat.com/category/geoengineering/
Sorry, FAIL on your part. NEXT!
– Anthony

Doug

It warms my heart to see how Sci Am was important in the formative years of so many people who post here. What happened to the scientific method? Data? Unbiased analysis? Ideological free education? Thanks Forrest…and Willis

[snip. PNG. — mod.]

Chewer

Good job Willis!
I sincerely appreciate your hard work!
I’ve been asking if AGW is expected to keep this inter-glacial going forever and have heard from the uninformed that, Yes for at least the next 10,000 years:)
When we’re able to measure all EMF and the interactions with molecular & particle matter within a cubed meter of free space, we will no longer have any questions about C02’s influence within our troposphere.
All The Best!

Heres the irony; ordinary people have an instinct to ignore the opinions of bigots! We have a natural tendency to choose to believe what someone with an open mind has to say rather that to listen to the views from people with a closed mind. So people with closed minds have to speak louder to get themselves heard, even when they are right.
People who lose their emotional compasses become indecisive, because using reason cannot work if it does not start with gut instinct of where the truth might be found. An instinct to cut out unpromising material is key to all cognitive decison making. This is found with brain damaged indiviuals who lose touch with their emotional instincts, they can no longer make decisions because the multiplicity of options make it impossible for them to move at all.
This guy has got it the wrong way round, he thinks he can become efficient through confining his decision-making to agreeing with group think. In reality he will simply stray off course with his group. They will only be able to talk amongst themselves. and as they stray they will be judged to be bigots and simply be ignored by ordinary folk, even when they are right.

Carrick

Nobody reads sciam blogs anymore. They are totally irrelevant.
Just sayin’

DJ

Perhaps it’s time for ScAm to change its name to something more appropriate to its current vision…
Psychintific American

jorgekafkazar

Trofim Lysenko lives.

David Delaney

We seem to have the same problem with New Scientist magazine in the UK. It takes AGW as a given and regales us with a succession of frightening extrapolations.

Mark

Just because someone mentions X does not mean that they support or agree with X. Since computers do not understand natural language “naughty word” filters can easily end up matching considerably more than expected. Even in ways which initially baffle humans.

Larry Logan

At times I wonder if other writers & editors on a magazine — or other faculty at a university — totally know the depths to which their brethren sink and slither around. Sure, they know a little bit but likely not everything.
These bad actors do such bad damage an institution’s brand and credibly. (I grew on Jacque Cousteau and ultimately photographed for the Geographic and now can only dismay where it’s fallen.) My naive hope is that the publishers, Board or other senior people go, ‘Frank is doing what?! Are you kidding me?!’
Hence my taking the time to track down those more senior, such as department heads and deans, and cc’ing them when sending a WUWT link to one of their own profs that has really stepped into it with his latest work. Sure, they’ll circle wagons, but it couldn’t have comfortable for Mann to have his IPCC ‘award’ exposed in the student newspaper. The faculty lounge is a snake pit of jealously and knives in backs. Throwing in a weakened weasel into the open pin gets their rattlers a-going while the true vipers slither in for the kill.

Robert Wykoff

It is truly sad what SciAm has become. I used to enjoy it a lot in the 80’s and early 90’s and was my must reading on the plane. Even in this time frame, listening to the older folks talk, it had already begun its decline at this point. Anyway, I began to like it less and less through time, and noticed even in the 90’s that the focus was shifting ever more political, with ever increasing emphasis of global warming, and other psuedo-scientific topics. I stuck with it as long as I could, but I distinctly remember an article right before the Bush-Kerry election that was an 8 page deification of Kerry on the environment, and an outright non-stop slugfest of how evil and horrible Bush was and how we were all going to die if he got reelected. They even went so far in the “subtleness” as each and every single time Kerry was mentioned by name, his name was preceded by the title “Senator Kerry”, and each and every time Bush was referred to by name he was simply referred to as “Bush”. You don’t have to like either guy to not notice the blatant political bias of the article.
The other thing that drives me nuts is how each and every nature documentary on the Discovery Channel has to end with the obligatory dire message of “Everything you just saw here is threatened by Global Warming”. Some of the nature shows are outstanding, but I have learned to turn them off at the last commercial, to prevent my blood from from boiling over.