Guest essay by Bob Fernley-Jones (Mechanical engineer retired)
Australia is blessed with a university-partnered blog The Conversation which is of mostly alarmist bent in the category of Energy + Environment. Only scholars are permitted to author stories but comments are open to the public which includes a hard core of regulars most of whom are badged Friends of The Conversation for their nominal $300 contributions. Given its high academic status it is globally cited with some of the more sensational stories going viral.
The following story image is copied from the archival index. You may have heard of the author.
Without pondering his controversial views it is interesting to review some aspects of the comment activity:
After only six days of many unsympathetic comments, 61 of them were deleted but that was out of a total of only 102 (or 60%). Activity then rapidly faded to end with a total of 108 comments of which 64 were deletes
I should mention that in preparation for this post and from prior experience on this website I took the precaution of taking copies of comment submissions (despite taking care over the written site rules), although I wasn’t quick enough to capture many comments from others.
Here is Screenshot 1 which is a tidied copy of the sole exchange I had with Cook:
Although Cook also replied to three other commenters, on day two that was the last we heard from him and when I sought clarification on some unanswered elements and whether he endorsed the misleading photo there followed six deletions (including of two regular commenters that supported inclusion of the photo).
In Screenshot 2, because Cook appeared to condone use of the photo, I enquired of the thread editor:
It seems that the moderator may have felt it was mischievous but as far as I can see it did not break the written site rules. However, it was deleted and I received the standard email advising:
Your comment on ‘A brief history of fossil-fuelled climate denial’ has been removed.
There are several reasons why this may have occurred:
1. Your comment may have breached our community standards. For example it may have been a personal attack, or you might not have used your real name.
2. Your comment may have been entirely blameless but part of a thread that was removed because another comment had to be removed.
3. It might have been removed for another editorial reason, for example to avoid repetition or keep the conversation on topic.
For your reference, the removed comment was: [removed by me and instead shown above]
For practical reasons we reserve the right to remove any comment and all decisions must be final, but please don’t take it personally.
If you’re playing by the rules it’s unlikely to happen again, so feel free to continue to post new comments and engage in polite and respectful discussion.
For your reference, the removed comment was:
Here are some important extracts from the written rules:
We won’t discuss moderation on the site. If you need to discuss anything, contact our Community Manager: email@example.com
Keep comments relevant to the article and replies relevant to the initiating post. We reserve the right to delete off-topic comments to keep threads on track.
For example: in an article about the policy response to climate change, comments about the science of climate change will be considered off topic.
Since it was unchallengeable on-thread, I tried some different tacks with four other commenters. All were deleted but for brevity I’ll skip most of them here. All eleven of them are revealed in both of the two files attached; file 1 = Short summary of my deleted comments and a few related matters and file 2 = All comments at 5/July/2016 with my available archived deletions reinstated.
Screenshot 3 follows showing the final deletion #64 of 108. It is rather interesting because deletion #63 was mostly the same message and was my first attempt to cheer-up a poor soul whose forlorn hope was that heat from the sun would diminish in the next year or two. I advised very good news of a recent article in the prestigious Science journal giving that things are looking better now. I was disappointed at its deletion and thinking it a mistake, tried again…..wondering what was wrong with good news?
Alas, the good news was deleted but the tragically negative thoughts from a regular commenter which prompted my submission were retained.
But, we have other ways at ‘The Conversation’:
(We don’t just delete). A common tactic employed by authors is to respond to easy or supportive comments but to remain silent when it’s “difficult”.
Cook is a Research Fellow in Climate Communication @ University of Queensland (Oz), and Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (hereinafter H-G) is Director at the same institute. H-G is a prominent Great Barrier Reef (GBR) activist and darling of Oz media who was a notable co-author named in the following story (my emphasis):
This story did not go well for the authors and was closed without warning when still busy at only five days and after 143 comments. There were a total of 43 deletions or 29% involving some non-conforming comments.
Multiple issues included that in the absence of adequate Sea Surface Temperature (SST) records for the GBR at the time, their modelling for it was based on BoM monthly data for the vast 2.4 Km (1.5 mile) deep Coral Sea. It’s quite a chunk of ocean covering 4.8 million Km2 and its whole-area-average monthly temperatures were employed whereas the GBR on the shallow Continental Shelf has a north-south SST relatively massive range of over 30 C. Putting aside that monthly data are too coarse to detect shorter temperature spikes that are known to cause bleaching, the following figure is the first of some inconvenient graphics communicated to those five scholars and others.
Accompanying text elaborated that the Coral Sea SST data have no past correlation in at least seven authenticated observations on the GBR over the past twenty years. Yep, 2016 was OK but just about any global metric correlated (no exclusivity for the Coral Sea). Notice that SST’s in [red coloured items 1 and 8] are a tad inharmonious WRT the words of that great American scholar Kevin Trenberth, who recently identified those years as being of the 2nd and 3rd “Super El Niños”.
Another issue communicated to them is that the hottest SST month in the season is February and that modelling that month might be more logical than selecting the coolest month of March. (However, it seems that they were mesmerized by March 2016 having a record high anomaly) Also, newly released BoM data for the GBR shows a different story to the Coral Sea, e.g.-
And here’s another quite succinct inconvenience that ‘they’ have declined to comment on in which the thermodynamic implications are rather interesting, including greater daytime volatility on the GBR:
‘They’ include the Dean and Head of Science over Prof David Karoly at The University of Melbourne. Karoly took the lead in “our study” and you may have heard that he’s an active fellow such as with the Gergis et al hockey-stick and even in Biology Letters at the UK Royal Society over the phonology J of the Oz common brown butterfly. (J o is quite well separated from e on a qwerty keyboard. The poor butterfly has emerged ten days early at a declared UHI affected Melbourne suburb because of increasing CO2)
Karoly (another darling of Oz media) did respond in comments to several readers and partially to my first. Sadly, when I elaborated in comments and later in follow-up emails with further inconvenient empirical info, all authors fell silent.
Why did I emphasize the claim of 175 times more likely record bleaching on the GBR? Well putting aside that the story did not clarify stuff like ‘when’ and it was released into the public domain without peer review, it went globally viral. Here is the top of page 10 of a Google search on 30/June in which two exact search phrases are bolded by default (hyphen optional):
It is still going with 4,210 hits on 22/July and 4,330 on 27/July/2016.
If Google is only half right, the public domain remains grossly misinformed after over three months and the Dean and Head of Science at The University of Melbourne have dismissed advice to this effect, apparently with no thought of remedy. It’s odd that a non-peer-reviewed astonishing claim is treated as if it were authoritatively true and that independent review of it in the same domain where it was released is not accepted?
An interesting comparison:
The UK offspring site had an article last January by the controversial* Stephan Lewandowsky (who BTW was the supervisor for Cook’s PhD in Cognitive Psychology…….):
Strong non-conforming comments abounded and the thread reached 296 comments without any deletions and still remains open. Even though the site rules are identical in the UK as in Oz, there were zero deletions on 296 comments, compared with 60% on 108 on John Cook’s thread in Australia. Lewandowsky made no replies to any of the 296 comments although his name was mentioned 39 times.
* E.g. this at WUWT; Social psychologist Jose Duarte pulls no punches in describing Lewandowsky’s failures