George Monbiot's Troll Problem (and Ours)

George Monbiot has a great article this week citing DeSmog Blog, regarding the vexing issue of “trolls”. Not the kind that live under bridges, but those faceless cyberspace monikers that pop up frequently in comment sections of blogs likes this one, to repetitively froth away against climate science.

Are these real people? Or are they operatives in the employ of Big Oil?  “Paul S”? “Phlogiston”? I’m talking to you.

It seems that Monbiot has same problem that we do. On the Guardian website, a small minority of anonymous “skeptics” often dominate the discussion by regurgitating talking points from well-known climate deniers. Sound familiar?

When Monbiot challenged his trolls to reveal their identity, or even confirm or deny whether they are posting from a PR office, he has never got a straight answer.

Monbiot also names DeSmogBlog as one of the sites leading the charge in unmasking those behind the Big Oil’s PR campaign. We have accumulated our own collection of trolls and they do seem to have a lot of time on their hands…

So why wouldn’t the oil or coal industry hire trolls to undermine our work, or Monbiot’s? Clearly, they are already investing heavily in cyberspace.

We have already reported how Big Coal is spending more than $20 million on their on-line efforts to convince the public that coal is “clean”.

They recently posted a job for a Vice President, Paid and Digital Media, whose success would be judged by “Effective expansion of the America’s Power campaign in digital media formats (including, but not limited to, on-line/display, social media, and other digital formats).”

Beyond the $20 million budget, this on-line spin-doctor also has access to:

  • One (or more) national public relations/digital media PR firms
  • One national traditional media placement PR firm
  • One national digital media placement PR firm

This lucrative position seems dedicated to be to inserting the interests of the fossil fuel industry into the blogosphere.

And then there’s the oil industry. Professional bloggers in the employ of the Alberta government have directly responded to our posts, though they did have the courtesy to identify themselves.

Alberta is blowing $25 million on a “re-branding effort for the province to try to improve the province’s tarry public image. This also involves $500,000 for Washington-based lobbyists and of course, a team of professional bloggers.

Clearly social media matters a lot the fossil fuel lobby. They are willing to pay millions to massage their image using emerging technologies like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Besides being disingenuous, this ploy also undermines what’s special about on-line communities - like an uninvited brush salesman making the rounds at your barbeque.

Comment sections on sites like this one are the vital feature of the blogosphere, allowing readers to honestly share their views, and challenge the writer or each other. That is, if they are real people instead of brush salesmen.

Over to you Paul S…


Particularly with You Tube, the comments and replies tend to get separated. So when you see four replies by one person to your one comment and none of those replies is relevant to your comment, you have to be suspicious.

When the deny global warming comment does not in any way address the article in question, you get suspicious.

Many of the comments seem to be cut and paste jobs, not original thought. Plagiarism is rife.

And finally, some people seem to have way to much free time just to read up and comment on something they do not believe in.

I write frequently about climate change myself, and find I face the same issue frequently.

For good, or bad, I have decided that comments that spout the same old propaganda are now off limits. Questions, clarifications, and opinions on policy are all fair game. “CO2 does not cause warming or “Its the sun stupid” are not fair game. I edit these out.

I do not feel a blogger is obligated to allow a forum for the spread of ridiculous propaganda. Especially since their is abundant evidence that it is becoming more and more coordinated.

Dan Satterfield
Chief Meteorologist

same ol’ or fair game…..1. temperature drives co2 2. there was a MWP 3. there is no hotspot in the troposphere 4. there are issues with weather stations 5. climate models are just that, models which so far haven’t been too impressive with, well, just about anything 6. land ice, sea ice, whatever ice measurements seem to be about the same since ‘79 (sat. measure) in the arctic and antarctic ice is growing 7.fears of a want for global governance are misguided (see algore, chirac, the pope,the italian dude, the canadian dude,or the other canadian dude Maurice Strong, the u.n. —btw nobody ever got back to me on the food for oil program successes). speaking of propaganda….what claims have been made (like an ice free north pole or whatever that have been proven to be manmade issues with co2? just wondering….peace, rich

“3. there is no hotspot in the troposphere”

Yes there is!

Robust Tropospheric Warming Revealed by Iteratively Homogenized Radiosonde Data

Hint: Its in the title!

Apostrophe doesnt work!

i forgot i have to go slow for u cc… my comments i was asking what dan s. feels are the same ole’ propaganda or ligitimate questions. I was asking if the questions i list were still in play. funny how you would pick just that one question anyhow..cant access the study you mention (unless i pony up $32) but i was wondering if that was the study where they decided to adjust their temp reading by measuring wind sheer as well? I mean why not use wind sheer to determine temp? temp artifacts were found, of course, and adjusted for but none were found in the wind measurements..or was this the study where they found “noise” in their models and suggested the hotspot could be within the noise? btw, why didn’t you ask about the global governance thing? btw again, your apostrophe may not work but your exclamation does!!

Mascereye writes:

1. temperature drives co2


2. there was a MWP
Yes, this is true, but your conclusion isnt. Climate does vary, but at no point in the last 125,000 years have we had warming like this.

3. there is no hotspot in the troposphere

John Christy has been shown to be wrong.

4. there are issues with weather stations

Anthony Watts has been completely eviscerated by NOAA

5. climate models are just that, models which so far haven’t been too impressive with, well, just about anything

Climate models are highly accurate in predicting future temperatures. We can test their accuracy by starting them in 1860, and seeing how they perform.


6. land ice, sea ice, whatever ice measurements seem to be about the same since ‘79 (sat. measure) in the arctic and antarctic ice is growing

Yet another lie. You ARE tiresome.

About the arctic… best to go directly to the scientists, not to blogs.

I could go on, but you get the point. (Maybe you dont).

Why should anyone listen to anything you say?

Score: One Blue Marble 7; mascereye 0

let’s go slow (again)…dan satterfield suggested that he no longer will entertain questions he considers to be propaganda in nature. questions he feels are legitimate he will entertain. my question to him was…..which ones are off limits, with some examples. i wasn’t stating any arguements, i was asking where he felt certain topics fell on his list. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. I was basically saying that “the science is settled” arguement is pretty silly. you say my conclusion was wrong on the MWPWHAT CONCLUSION? …the person who didn’t get the POINT was you! can’t wait to read all the new scientist stuff and get back to you.

Am I a real person? Yes. Is my name truly Paul S——m.? Yes. Do I get paid for this? No. Am I professionally or personally involved with any company or organization of any type related to the fossil fuel industry? No.

Why do I post then? I was always taught to ask a lot of questions. When I ask a direct question about AGW however, I don’t get a straight answer. That concerns me, but it doesn’t stop me from continuing to ask the questions over and over again.

I am flattered you would mention me in a post Mitchell and I appreciate being able to post here. I sincerely hope I am not too overbearing in my posts (though I suspect that sometimes I am, knowing myself as I do).

Lastly, if I am to offer a bit of criticism, it would be that the use of the term “troll” has a pejorative connotation. I would like to believe I simply post independent-minded (and at times controversial) comments.

“Do I get paid for this? No.”

Well, let’s put the question another way: are you part of a “sponsorship” programme ( where you get to enjoy free food or partake in other perks for posting stuff here?

“I would like to believe I simply post independent-minded (and at times controversial) comments.”

You “would like to believe”? OK

– bi

John, I live on my reputation. My opinions may be mistaken (as they have been on other issues) but they are my opinions, formed free of any financial or other consideration past, present or future.

Thanks Paul, the reason I do not lean so hard on Easterbunnies and such seems to me to be clear. The vast weight of peer reviewed science is on their side. Not public opinion, science. What reason would one have for denial? What basis? What point? I’m no fan of party wagon behaviour either but clearly no one side on this issue (the popular debate about fossil fuel; there is no scientific debate) has a monopoly on party wagoners. But only one party wagon also has the weight of science on board.

I have suggested the following feature for blogging software, which should at least be reasonable with moderated blogs, which are good ideas anyway:

1) Each thread has a “shadow thread”

2) When a moderator sees a post in the in-queue, they can:

a) Accept as is
b) Accept, with editorial comment.
c) Cancel

d) Move to shadow thread, possibly with a “reason”
Replace the body of the post with a link to the post now located in the shadow thread, but leaving the header so readers can see if they want to bother to follow the link.

If someone replies to a post in the shadow,the reply stays in the shadow. Hence, this helps with the case where someone just cannot resist endless debates with trolls, and also handles OK, but off-topic posts that dilute reasonable discussions.

3) It is clear,whether paid or not, that some trolls exist to dilute useful discussion with the Nth repetition of some long-debunked errors, often hoping to get someone to debate with them endlessly.

Surely you cannot be seriously saying that you have anonymous trolls at Desmogblog? After all you have to register (with a valid email) to be able to post on your site. I can only assume you a playing with us.

Wordpress sites require a declaration of an email address before a post can be made (although less stringent than registration).

I think you are engaged in a little trolling yourself!

I agree with Dan Satterfield. We can use our editorial judgement both during and after the piece is written, and hit the delete button on commenters who want to disrupt the conversation.

This does not solve the time problem, of course. Time is often a question of money, as climate change denial funders clearly grasp.

Are we saying that a social media presence is an important part of a) informing the public and b) promoting good climate policy? Okay, then why are the full-time, decently paid job opportunities in this field so rare?

Foundations, companies and organizations dedicated to promoting good science, good information, social progress, and effective reporting (as well as effective policy) on climate need to rethink their priorities and their assumptions about effective spending and staff support, if they want the results that the smog-blowers have had for the past 15-odd years.

over a period of time. Very occasionally somebody new will post a “beginners” question. Upon being given the answer, they will go away and think about the information they’ve been given. Sometimes they may come back for clarification, or further information, very rarely they may hang around and participate in the conversation.

Trolls don’t go away and think. They just come back posing the question again, or pick another equally discredited concept to champion. Often they protest their innocence, (how’s it going Paul S?). Sometimes we know that an amateur troll’s chosen profession will have exposed them to secondary education that will have equipped them to answer their own question, even if their tertiary education didn’t, professions like dentistry for example which ought to have at least a cursory brush with chemistry and therefore an introduction to Henry’s Law. I mean would you trust them to fill your mouth with chemicals, or drug you, if they knew nothing about absorption or partial pressures?

Professional trolls are paid to confuse and misdirect, does this make them professional liars? Amateur trolls seek to cause contention and argument, surely this can only be attributable to malicious motives.

Richard C’s post displays nicely the attitude underpinning many AGW thinkers thinking. Regarding ‘trolls’, he says:

=trolls seek to cause contention and argument, surely this can only be attributable to malicious motives.=

I ask questions because someof the answers given seem to be of such poor quality; peer review or not.

The believers in AGW want to turn my life upside down at great cost to myself and others. Of course I will continue asking questions.

John, Desmog already has my full name. My first name is Paul and my full last name is in my e-mail address. What other information do you require?

Mitchell thinks that I am a paid employee/propagandist for “Big Oil”.
If only!!
For the record I am a university lecturer in environmental sciences.
One that for obvious reasons does not want to be seen to be writing material in public domains that goes against the university’s “climate change policy”- which, of course had no prior discussion with those academics within the university who know rather more about the “science” behind AGW than those who determined the policy.

Being “politically correct” in this area means that you can exaggerate and fabricate any rubbish as long as it toes the party line. Being a “denier” (note not a denier of climate change, just a denier that CO2 is the main cause) is rather more intellectually challenging than simply parroting the received “truth”. If the charge against me is that I query received wisdom, and use blogs such as these to try and show that the science is not settled, then suppose that in the minds of the faithful I’m a troll.

As above, name..

University of Manitoba, Winnipeg Manitoba
Sessional Instructor/Laboratory Coordinator - Biological Sciences.

Where we have no University policy on global warming, but do have many researchers doing fine work looking at research that ranges from ice to algae.

A notable example is

The idea that a university would have a “climate change policy” is ludicrous. Universities exist to provide academic freedom to their faculty. Nobody tells a university professor what to think and what not to think. Nobody suppresses their freedom to post whatever they like in any public forum. Occasionally profs will disagree with one another, sometimes virulently. But theres never an official position.

So, try again. Come up with a backstory thats more plausible. Why wont you reveal your real identity?

LOL. You obviously haven’t set foot on a campus for many years. Political correctness is quite pervasive.

And the Easterbunny calling on Phlogiston to reveal his “real” name … now that’s rich. :p

Easterbunny has not claimed to be a lecturer (Phlogiston is not a professor, I note) at a college/university in the field of environmental sciences. He/she has crossed a line there, and has provided no way to confirm it. Fern

When Easterbunny claims to be a lecturer in environmental sciences and to have studied at one of the top five universities in the world on the subject, yes, by all means let’s have his/her credential plastered across the blog for all to see!

For the moment, I don’t see the point.

Personally, I think that these discussions benefit from people stating up front who they are, and that’s why I sign my posts. But I don’t particularly care if you, Paul S, or Easterbunny choose to remain anonymous – unless you make a claim to have special expertise. That calls for a bit more disclosure.

Fern Mackenzie

Phologiston is simply posting on a blog. If you don’t believe him, too bad. You want his name for one reason only: harassment, which is the biggest club warmers have.

I want to point out that phlogiston is about as credible as his identity is admitted. Likewise Paul the writer who dares to be known by his initial. Maybe that’s why we can’t find him in the peer reviewed lietrature. Nice try on the harassment dodge.

John, if Desmog wants more information when one registers on the blog, just do it. But when you’ve got characters like the Easterbunny hopping around freely here, it is difficult to take any complaints against phlogiston seriously.

Okay, Phlogiston and Paul S. Its truth or dare time.
My name is Steve Easterbrook, and I am a full professor at the University of Toronto. Heres my webpage:

Now its your turn. And don`t give me that bullshit about “political correctness”. The only people who hide behind that excuse are people who want to blame others for their own inadequacy. If you are any good at science, you publish in the peer-reviewed literature. If you`re crap, you go around screaming about political correctness. We`re scientists, not pre-schoolers.

=”And don`t give me that bullshit about “political correctness”.”=

Oh stop it. No need to get your undies in a knot Easterbunny. PC-policing is very common on campuses, especially on a subject like AGW.

My name is Paul Sunstrum, raised in Saskatchewan and now residing in Alberta. I work in business support services, mostly accounting related, and have no expertise per se in climate except the responsibility that a voting citizen should take an interest in the important issues of the day and always ask questions.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was once riding the subway when a middle-aged man approached me at the back of the bus. He offered me an envelope containing $5,000 cash if I would become a “skeptic” and post occasionally online. Of course I said yes.

OK, let the ad homs rip guys. :P

Paul - the reason people are describing you as a troll is because you behave like one. First you make a bald assertion (that universities are rife with “political correctness”), without any kind of evidence, and suggest I wouldn`t know because I clearly haven`t set foot on a campus for years.
Then, when I point out that in fact I`m a university professor, instead of acknowledging that I might actually have vastly more experience of this than you, you just repeat the assertion that “PC-policing is very common on campuses”, once again with no attempt to provide evidence, and quite clearly no actual experience of this. This is exactly the kind of behaviour that the term “troll” describes.

Terms like “political correctness” and “PC-policing” are rhetorical tricks, used by people who are unwilling to engage honestly in pursuit of truth, to complain that they are being suppressed. In a university, you gain respect by your ability as a scholar, to take stock of the available evidence, and demonstrate the validity of your ideas. You will not gain respect if you go around repeating nonsense and bleat that you`re being suppressed when you`re challenged on it.

You admit that you have no expertise in climate. So go hang out with some real scientists, find out what they know and how they know it, before you make up your mind. And stop behaving like a troll.

This is exactly the type of thing you see from trolls on the internet, which is little to no expertise in a subject they claim mastery over. Despite not having any scientific background Paul S/G claims to know more than many well published, and active reseachers. Of course I give that fact, Dr Easterbunny 1….Paul S/G 0

In a previous post I also put up my information, as a sessional instructor and research tech at the University of Manitoba, and know full well that academic freedom is something that the faculty guard fiercely…even willing to strike over that single issue itself. I think you might be missing something Paul not having a scientific background or being part of the staff or faculty on campus.

name calling and appeals to authority are not all that convincing. Those techniques are often associated with lack of confidence in ones supposed convictions. In any case, thats how I interpret that type of comment.

It is not a “bald assertion” that there is a lot of PC on campuses. Try holding a conference in support of Israel on a campus. AGW is similar in that questioners of the party line are quickly subjected to vicious ad homs.

No, I am not a scientist. I am a citizen. And it is citizens, via the democratic process, who will decide what action we as a country take.
That is why I keep asking questions, partly because much of climate science seems so ambiguous and speculative, and because the cost of action will be very high.

“try holding a conference in support of Israel…”. That sounds more like a political rally than an academic conference. But let`s give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you meant “a conference on the status of Israel”. This is still an entirely political question, but you`ll get a wide diversity of opinions if you hold such a conference. If you systematically exclude any of those voices, you`ll get howls of protest on a university campus. And quite rightly too. Is that what you mean by “PC”?

Now AGW is a scientific question, not a political one. So one would expect to have knowledgeable scientists at a conference on AGW. People with no scientific expertise would be welcome to attend, but probably wouldn`t be invited to speak. If anyone can find a respectable scientist to argue that AGW is incorrect, then they`d almost certainly be invited, because academics like nothing more than a (real) scientific controversy. But they won`t tolerate unscientific nonsense. Is excluding people who obviously don`t know what they`re talking about what you mean by “PC”?

When was the last time you went to an academic conference on climate change and saw “questioners of the party line subjected to vicious ad homs”?. Once again, you don`t appear to have a clue what you`re talking about. The fact is you`ve never been to a scientific conference on climate change, because you`re not interested in the science. You`ve made up your mind what to believe, and automatically reject any evidence that contradicts it. And to shore up your worldview, you`ve had to concoct a conspiracy theory that there`s systematic censorship at universities going on. Next you`ll be telling us that Armstrong never landed on the moon, and that in fact the world is flat. Honestly, learning the science is really much much easier than concocting this elaborate fiction. Go try it.

What you seem unable to grasp is that *expertise matters*. It matters a lot. If you have a scientific question to discuss, it is *not* the case that all views are equal. But of course, if you have no idea what science is and how it works, then you have no ability to figure who can speak with authority on a scientific question. Which is a shame, because if you were able to listen to the experts and filter out the ignorant, you`ll be bowled over by the urgency of the problem we face. Rather than, say, trolling around on climate blogs claiming “the science is ambiguous and speculative”. How can you possibly conclude that, when, by your own admission, you don`t even know the science?

Here`s a challenge: show me one single peer-reviewed scientific paper that disproves the theory of AGW. Just one. If you can`t do that, you really should question your own assumptions. And just to humour you, I`ll offer you one that contradicts your assumptions (just one, out of many thousands I could pick):

=”Now AGW is a scientific question, not a political one.”=

What actions we take on AGW will be political ones. And in the political arena, action on AGW still lacks broad public support.

=”… a conference on AGW. People with no scientific expertise would be welcome to attend, but probably wouldn`t be invited to speak.”=

The public isn’t even invited to question any aspects of AGW. But because we have questions, and we aren’t satisfied to date with the answers scientists have provided, action on AGW, legislative-wise, has been minimal.

=”And to shore up your worldview, you`ve had to concoct a conspiracy theory that there`s systematic censorship at universities going on.”=

Where did I say anything was systematic? But PC exists. And outside of universities, it is even worse. That is why any public questioning of AGW orthodoxy is met with vicious ad homs.

=”If you have a scientific question to discuss, it is *not* the case that all views are equal.”=

Truth is not balanced, I agree. It is what it is. But what is the truth?

Sea level rise is not accelerating, but climate scientists have misled us saying it is. The “rise” is sea level is due to changing the method of measurements.

Ocean heat content is also a bit of a mystery. But of course, no doubts can be voiced.

=”… if you were able to listen to the experts and filter out the ignorant, you`ll be bowled over by the urgency of the problem we face.”=

The general public has been inundated with warnings about AGW for many years now. But the public also realizes acutely that taking the action recommended would turn their worlds completely upside down. It is no surprise, at least to me, that the public is viewing AGW in a more sober, deliberative manner.

=”Here`s a challenge: show me one single peer-reviewed scientific paper that disproves the theory of AGW.”=

Can’t do, anymore then you could show me a single paper proving AGW. The evidence is much more complex then that.

Nice. The back of a bus. I’ve noticed those back of the bus guys with a brief case full of $5,000 cash envelopes. Of course you said yes. To “become a skeptic”. Clearly you were already a cynic. Did you declare it good citizen? A voting citizen has a duty to become informed. Being a contrarian does the institution a dis-service. Of course one fib is, if not exactly ok, at least forgiveable. A whole load of bull shit? You tell me.

Why so angry John? Surely you must have a sense of humor there somewhere.

I was raised in the generation that said “question authority”, “question everything”. Why should the mother of all issues, AGW, be exempt?

Oh, so you’re just doing this for a laugh? I heard question authority but I missed question everything. Question authority means question those who assert authority but offer flimsy or no basis. It does not mean question the authority that tells you honey makes tea sweet. Or that Earth is a sphere. I presume you are not a simpleton. Only a smart Alec would miss that distinction on purpose. Question everything is stupid if it means question everything again and again even after you have the vast preponderance of evidence indicating the right answer. That’s why. Sense of humour? ok. Did you hear the one about the smart Alec who would say anything for attention?

I”ve thought for a couple of years now that there are professional trolls operating.

Not that there aren”t a lot of amateurs with deep convictions out there. Erroneous and immutable. Personally, I had many arguments with a relative who maintained “there isnt enough carbon dioxide to heat the earth”. Guy has a degree in a chemical field (never used although he did technical work in networking). I couldnt get him to consider my counter: “If there was that much ammonia we would all be dead.” Furthermore, in my NASA career I saw good scientists get a hypothesis in their head that no amount of contrary data would get out.

But the persistent use of denier websites, the apparent refusal to look at or ever acknowledge science sites, the chorus harping on the same talking point at once – I think a high percentage of these are pros. Those persons I talk to in ordinary life bring up their own individual refutations of AGW. Right now the denier vogue is the earth is getting colder, but there argument that earth is getting colder because-there-are-no-sunspots is fading as sunspots are returning.

Pro-troll activity seems to have deteriorated on DotEarth. A year ago the deniers almost always got the first comment to DotEarth, or to other newspaper articles. As if they had a suite of computers searching for new articles. Further, DotEarth deniers were apt to feature sophisticated pseudo-science arguments.

Now denier arguments tend to be basic, designed to appeal to idiots. Al-Gore-earns-billions or nobody-bets-real-money-on-models or how-can-mankind-affect-our-great-big-earth arguments. Those pseudo science arguments that are used are obvious copies by people who dont understand the “PDO” – a ~60 year cycle.

I dont know how you could prove there are paid trolls. But I think they are there.

And trolls are very good at diverting discussion of what should we do Instead people argue with the troll. Do Not Feed the Troll!

(Note: my apostrophe is not working on this web site.)

Someone is being paid to be a critic at desog? Nah - I can’t believe that. If your blog has any readers, it’s going to get critics. It shows that you’re being read - be happy.

Femack is correct (for once), I do not have the title of “Professor”, however I do hold a first degree and a PhD in science from one of the top 5 universities in the World.
As I said I am a university lecturer and have published in the area of biological adaptations to climate change.
Furthermore my views to not concur with my employer’s climate change policy.

I’ve been slapped! Actually, Phlogiston, in my own area of expertise I am correct pretty often. In fact, my opinion is actively sought out. In this field (NOT my area of expertise) I have spent a few years investigating what the experts have got to say on the subject. I may be an ArtSci, but I am not an idiot. I come from a long line of scientists/engineers. I know scientific method when I see it, and I know obfuscation when I see it.

It is remotely possible that the IPCC assessment of the situation is wrong.

But the bottom line for me is this: what if the IPCC is right, and we do nothing? Where does that leave us?

Fern Mackenzie