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Cooked Motl - Josh 337

Apparently John Cook, of Skeptical Science blog, has been impersonating Lubos Motl, see Lubos blog here, also reported on WUWT and the Air Vent, here and here

Why John Cook thought this was a good idea remains a mystery. But then it has been a strange week with Peter Wadhams convinced there is a conspiracy against him. Are the alarmists getting alarmed?

Cartoons by Josh

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Reader Comments (79)

I agree with Brandon's frustration at people over-charging and mischarging. When one is dealing with wily and dishonest people, being inaccurate too often enables them to deal with straw men and avoid the actual issues. Too often, angriness is self-indulgent and counterproductive. However, in this particular case, I don't see that any particular harm has been done beyond some comments on the internet being incorrect, but in general it would be helpful if commenters avoided making charges unless they've thoroughly familiarized themselves with the events.

Jul 26, 2015 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

Removed Brandon's outburst and response. Maybe count to ten and try again a bit more politely ;-)

Jul 26, 2015 at 11:42 PM | Registered CommenterJosh

Stewgreen and Brandon Shollenberger are right of course. Making things up and attributing them to other people is not that uncommon in psychology experiments. Adam Corner of COIN, the Guardian and Business Green has a paper based on reactions to sceptical articles written by himself and his colleagues and passed off as editorials in the Scotsman and the Irish Times. The experiment didn't work very well, as he had the honesty to report, because the sceptic articles he made up were more convincing than the warmist ones.

The real flaw in Corner's experiment was that the 200 subjects were overwhelmingly 19 year old female students in the Welsh university department where Corner works. Who knows how much they were affected by their attitudes to the Scots and the Irish, not to mention to Corner himself, whom they presumably knew, and who is young, fit-looking, and given to wearing fetching blue wigs in public?

I quoted a number of Cook's comments from the Treehut Files in a comment at
(Aug 31, 2012 at 11:06 PM)
repeating what I'd already said at
(August 3, 2012 at 10:33 am)

First up, I met with Steve Lewandowsky and some other cognitive scientists who are interested in the phenomenon of science blogging and how it’s being used to educate and communicate science. In particular, they wanted to test the impact of blog comments on how people processed information. Did a blog post with all negative comments have a different impact on how people retain information compared to a blog post with all positive comments? So we sat down and designed an experiment to run on SkS to see if this has a discernible effect on blogs…

Jul 27, 2015 at 5:55 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Brandon's outburst and response was quite reasonable, in my opinion.
Obviously, we disagree.

But I thought he made his view understood clearly and effectively on the unimportance of using a fake name and then (presumably) changing it.
It should stand, in my opinion.

Jul 27, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Brandon's comment started off OK in my opinion , but descended into vituperative personal insults, which, in the absence of BH, is no doubt why Josh chose to remove it.

Jul 27, 2015 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Cook says he uses 'Lubos' when 'harvest'ing (his words) comments but wouldn't when presenting comments to UWA students. What he actually did is another matter and I am not sure it is known.

Jul 27, 2015 at 11:23 AM | Registered Commentershub

Ceci n'est pas un message de Jean Chef

Jul 27, 2015 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn_Cook

geoff, Cook says he wanted to run the experiment on Skepticalscience. Later he says the experiment was run with live students. Do we know what was actually done?

Jul 27, 2015 at 11:57 AM | Registered Commentershub

Some people have raised the question, "If the question in Cook's study was how readers would be differently affected by being exposed to warmist vs. skeptical opinions, variously attributed to warmist or skeptical authors, why not simply use the genuine quotes of genuinely skeptical authors (e.g., Motl)?"

It's a fair question; but one to which there seems to be a very simple answer: If you use the genuine quotes, they are written by different authors in their individual styles. If quotes of one side or the other prove more convincing to the open-minded reader, how do you isolate the effect of the position taken from that of the individual writer's persuasiveness as a writer? It seems to me that the only way to proceed is to rewrite all the entries in a similar style, to suppress stylistic variation as much as possible.

As to why Motl's name was brought in at all: The request made by John Cook for skeptical contributions suggests to me that Motl's actual quotes may have been used as initial placeholder text, for some subset of the skeptical-by-skeptic text examples, while developing the test system; but that these were replaced by the contributions (stylistically homogenized), and were entered into the test system as attributed to non-genuine authors.

Thus Motl's name (and actual quotes) were only used in the development phase of the test system, in the lab, which was isolated, to the extent possible, from the www. Until the theft and exposure of the private records of SkS, this material was not accessible to individuals not involved in the test-development project

The above is my interpretation of the material that Motl has posted from these records. I have not checked with John Cook to confirm my interpretation.

Jul 27, 2015 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeal J. King

Neal J King, 10:19pm: "The above is my interpretation of the material that Motl has posted from these records. I have not checked with John Cook to confirm my interpretation."

If you haven't confirmed it, it would appear that you are suffering from a case of premature interpretation.

Jul 27, 2015 at 11:21 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Josh wrote [Jul 26, 2015 at 11:42 PM]:

Removed Brandon's outburst and response. Maybe count to ten and try again a bit more politely ;-)

First of all, I hope you're not holding your breath, Josh :-) Because it appears that - rather than "try again" - Brandon seems to have subsequently decided, or at least announced, via comment on his own blog - following a post that was, ironically, all about "Timing" July 27, 2015 at 3:51 pm [my bold -hro]:

I think I’ve pretty much given up on “skeptic” blogs. I’m not going to go into the reasons, but for the short version, there aren’t any I feel comfortable with. Climate Audit was alright despite my vehement disagreement with its posts on the Andrew Weaver issue, which I’m still baffled by, but it’s very inactive anymore. The Blackboard is also rather inactive, but because of problems with my ISP, I have a lot of trouble posting there anyway. Other than that, I can’t think of any blogs I’d really feel comfortable posting on.

Second of all, since the "response" to Brandon's now deleted outburst was mine, I want you to know that I hold no grudge and I do not fault you, Josh.

But just for the record, although I don't recall whether or not I had specifically remarked on it, in that now deleted comment ...

I find it somewhat amusing that Brandon chose to hook onto this particular comment [Jul 26, 2015 at 8:08 AM] of mine for his grande entrée [Jul 26, 2015 at 9:49 AM] into this thread.

Notwithstanding the fact that I had actually said absolutely nothing whatsoever that could be remotely construed as a direct or indirect comment on Brandon's pronouncements (or anyone else's, for that matter!) vis a vis Cook and/or his typically 5th-rate Motl mess and/or messages.

View from here, so to speak, is that during the course of his grande entrée, for a brief period during which he graced us with his presence, for reasons obviously best known only to himself, Brandon chose to omit the context of that to which I was actually responding ... prior to moving on to the main points of my comment!

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Jul 28, 2015 at 9:48 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

So 2 comments
1. That there is a genuine problem that warmists slip over into FANTASYworld views.
2. That like them we on this thread have been drawn to follow the narrative rather than the evidence

OK so the case here against John Cook and indeed Wadhams isn't as strong as some would have first thought they are part of a phenomenon of warmists not being grounded in the real world.
Warmists are a whole do have a CREDIBILTY PROBLEM cos this RealWorld/ FantasyWorld phenomenon.
And this failure to understand the difference draws them OVER the LINE of morality.. they lose their moral compass and DECEIVE for the cause.
There are examples everyday, recent examples being :
- Catherine Porter's (Toronto Star) being drawn into completely fabricating a newspaper story apparently forgetting it had all been videoed
- WWF with their dodgy maths PR report that 50% of the worlds animals have disappeared in the last 40 years
- BBC with certain progs following a banning challenging of GreenDogma
In their fantsyworlds they
: First become very certain in their own cause.
: Can see that it is vulnerable to challenging on public forums etc.
And are drawn into lines of misbehaviour
: Reporting Bias they will hype up Their stories and suppress others
; invite certain commenters, but ban others
: They censor comments to protect their narrative.
Justifying that "the other side have vast resources". I don't know whether they really believe there is a "big oil machone" or whether it's just a convenient ruse.
: and finally like Catherine Porter get drawn over to complete fabrication. Maybe not seeing the difference between their fantsyworld and the real world.

Jul 28, 2015 at 10:14 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I have 3 initial points
- See the power of NARRATIVE is so strong it overwhelms EVIDENCE
- It is good to make mistakes
- for us it makes us realise the dangers of stepping over the line

So yes Steve McIntyre here in this thread what happened
narrative effect/bias
in action. The narrative :
that John Cook is such a warped and evil individual that he would do stuff like impersonate genuine people on public blogs for his cause
(and that StewGreen is such a tedious jerk we shouldn't bother reading what he writes)
(and that Brandon Shollenberger is such an angry sweary man we can dismiss him without bothering to read his points)
So that commenters followed the narrative over the line of EVIDENCE into believing that it has been proven that John Cook has been caught faking public comments.

- We see this all the time with warmists, that they have CERTAINTY beyond the evidence about all kinds of things.
However as I say to students "It is great to make mistakes, cos that is how we learn the right way is"
and that's what happened here people have found where the line of evidence is and rowed back. So by staying accurate we are credible and less vulnerable to straw man attack from those wily propagandists on the warmists side that Steve McIntyre warned us about above.

Jul 28, 2015 at 10:16 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Update to my posting of: Jul 27, 2015 at 10:19 PM

My guesses were slightly off:
- Motl's quotes were never used as placeholder text, because it was never seen as practical to construct a coherent continuous thread out of available remarks in the "wild".
- To enter the test texts into the test system, it was necessary to use a login. It could have had any name; Motl's was used whimsically. (Analogously, when developing encryption protocols, people frequency represent the three parties to the transaction as Alice, Bob and Eve.)

As mentioned before, this was on a private system, password protected, in the development phase of the project. When the system was finalized for the actual testing of volunteers, the whimsically chosen name "Motl" was exchanged for something less dramatic.

As you can see, the Motl username was set up on and only for the private lab system, and could not be used anywhere else in the world. The reason you have heard of this is that this arrangement was mentioned in the internal discussions of SkS, which were stolen and released, and then announced by Steve MacIntyre to Motl; this is the only way in which the fake username of "Motl' has entered the www.

Jul 28, 2015 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal J. King

Plenty of excuses and time wasted on the minutiae of this particular episode. They border on the irrelevant. We've got now Stupid Action number 536 by an ethics breaking activist who's at best a serial bungler. This is what makes a minor episode of idiocy into the source of many more questions about a controversial figure. Who'd be surprised to hear the fake Motl inadvertently popped up in the wrong places? Who?

Jul 28, 2015 at 12:22 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos


Question: Where has the fake Motl turned up? Who has seen it?

- The fake Motl never got outside the development lab: no one has seen it outside the lab, not even the participants in the test.
- The only reason anyone has heard about it is that people have been upset about a private comment about it, which was made public through theft and then promoted.

Further question: How did this promotion come about?
- Stephen McIntyre called it to Motl's attention.
- Motl wrote it up on his blog.
- Anthony Watts called attention to it.

Question: Has anyone seen a comment incorrectly attributed to Motl through this channel?
Answer: Only the people in the development lab.

Question: What harm has been done? and to whom?
Answer: I don't know, omnologos: You tell me.

Jul 28, 2015 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeal J. King

Neal - I certainly envy your certitudes. Are you Lubos_Motl?

Jul 28, 2015 at 3:26 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos


No, but:
- I can read; and
- I am in contact with John Cook.

Everything I have heard from Cook is compatible with what Motl posted; most of the speculation on the websites is not.

Jul 28, 2015 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeal J. King

@Neil J. King
So, we take it on John Cook's authority that John Cook did not do anything wrong?

Prima facie, John Cook planned to use someone else's name to test people's response to particular language. His friends at SkS saw nothing wrong with that, although they did not like his chosen fake identity. At the least, this tells us something about the sense of morality and legality of these people. We do not know whether the experiment was conducted as planned.

Jul 29, 2015 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Look @RichardTol we know John Cook and friends live in a fanatsyland* where they think it OK to do wrong cos of their "noble cause corruption". It's just that we don't have proof that he stepped over the line and
1) did use the named impersonation of skeptics... in private experiments
or 2) ... or in the public part of the SkS website.
* Yes that was a deliberate spelling.
- The narrative says he would do something like that cos he has previously stepped over the line into stealth editing and even stealth editing the words of skeptical commenters on his blog, to change the story. But as to whether he has deliberately impersonated skeptics in public ..we can't just follow the narrative, we have to follow the evidence.

Jul 29, 2015 at 9:15 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

BTW "I did not make any of the statements enclosed in quotation marks by the reporter" say Prof Wadhams
in paragraphs which totally contradict the original story

Jul 29, 2015 at 10:33 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Richard Tol:

No, you're not thinking clearly.

He used a false name as part of the test preparation process; this name was never used, and never planned for use, in the experiment.

Don't believe it? Then why believe ANY of it? All this stuff is from the records of the hack. What objective criterion do you have for believing part of it and extrapolating beyond the rest of it? Maybe the whole thing is an April Fool's joke, and Cook never created a Lumo login, never set up the experiment - just wrote it up as if he had? How would you be able to tell the difference. There is no end to the possibilities.

The only sensible judgment that can be made has to be based on the complete description that is available, not on picking and choosing bit and pieces of it, because you have no objective basis by which to select one bit over another. Otherwise, the whole issue dissolves into merely a projection of what you hope or fear, onto the blank screen of the comment box.

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeal J. King

@Neal, Stew
True. The only evidence is about the intention of wrongdoing. Then again, why would Cook encourage his SkS fellows to comment, if the experiment was run on SkS Forum? It rather defeats the purpose to inform the people you are trying to deceive. Besides, the links, since deleted, are to SkS (public) rather than SkS Forum (private).

Jul 29, 2015 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

If the links were to SkS, the files were being kept in SkS; and the tests, when finalized, would be run on SkS.

SkS Forum people were asked, using the SkS Forum system, to contribute to those files. Forum people of course have access to SkS, and also more visibility into the structure of SkS.

It's inaccurate to describe this as an attempt to deceive: The preliminary versions of the test files were kept away from the eventual participants because they were preliminary. Richard, I don't know if you give scheduled time-limited exams in your classes; but if you do, do you show your students the exam questions as you are developing them, or do you wait until the exam is ready and the time for the test has arrived? Would it be accurate to say you were deceiving your students by not showing them the exam material before the test date?

(Recall, please, that by the time Cook's test files were finalized, no real names were associated with any statements.)

Jul 29, 2015 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeal J. King

or so says Cook

Jul 29, 2015 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Eli, of course, knows Lubos since the year dot, and given Lumo's anger and irrational posing, well yes, it would be a good thing if John took over and calmed him down.

Jul 31, 2015 at 1:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabett

Now why would a pretend Pooka not have any problem in seeing less than honest character impersonation, one wonders

Jul 31, 2015 at 6:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabbet


In the absence of other evidence, all we can go on is the record and his statements: and these agree.

Judgments made beyond that are mere projections of one's own fancy. Perhaps a good term for these would be "gremlins."

Aug 5, 2015 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal J. King

I totally disagree with Neal King's wholly reductionist approach. This is not a court of law, and it is perfectly reasonable to view somebody's actions in light of their past behaviour.

In this respect, the extraordinary SS-clad fumbler may as well have done something totally wrong (not for the first time) and simply it has not been discovered yet. This is akin to seeing the picture of a known robber outside of a bank and commenting there is a strong possibility another robbery is in the works: even if no judge and no jury would have enough evidence to arrest the past perp.

Aug 5, 2015 at 10:25 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

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