Posted by: GoRight | March 25, 2010

The Keith Briffa Brouhaha.

I take note of this article over at Climate Realists.  It seems that the Keith Briffa biography has been undergoing some scrubbing related to his role in the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) emails scandal, a.k.a. Climategate.

Wikipedia User:Atmoz, generally an editor who supports the IPCC view of things, originally created the Keith Briffa biography back on March 5, 2009.  The article was pretty quiet until the CRU email scandal erupted and then other editors started trying to add mention of his relationship to the scandal to that page.  When this began to happen Atmoz chose to ask to have the page Speedily Deleted which is generally a process that is used to quickly deal with non-controversial actions.  The normal approach for such a deletion would have been a request via the Articles for Deletion process which takes much longer and is much more visible.  Clearly Atmoz was trying to fly under the radar.

Rather than being deleted the article was instead “userfied” which simply means that it was moved out of the normal article space into a subpage of a user, in this case User:Eastmain who was attempting to have the article preserved.  The history for the original article can now be found here if you are interested in seeing the details first hand.

At this point User:lumidek recreated the biography from the version that had been moved under Eastmain’s user space.  The new Keith Briffa biography can be found here.  Within hours of all this happening who should show up but User:William M. Connolley, who proceeded to scrub all mention of the CRU emails from the article.  When it became obvious that multiple editors wanted the material in he started claiming a BLP exemption (see the edit summary) to the number of times he was able to remove it.

In Wikipedia-speak his reference to the “BLP exemption” means that he believes that this section violates the Biographies of Living Persons policy and must be removed.  This would give him the ability to ignore the normal limits on the number of times he could delete that material (ordinarily 3 per day).  Now, claiming the exemption and actually violating the 3 reverts rule (3rr) are two different things as the 3rr is not to be violated lightly.

So when it became even more apparent that Connolley was outnumbered, who should happen to arrive to help out but User:KimDabelsteinPetersen and User:Stephan Schulz, two of Connolley’s regular WP:TAGTEAM partners.  Note that tag teaming like this is a very controversial practice used to circumvent the normal consensus process on Wikipedia, and it is one of the favorite techniques employed by this group of editors.

Unfortunately there is very little that can be done about it because there is no way to prove that they are actually collaborating, but they obviously are.  This type of cooperation happens with this group far too often to be consistent with random chance, and it is but one of the techniques this group uses to enforce their point of view.

The material that these editors wish to so desperately hide from your view can be seen here.  They are also most interested in removing this as well: “His most widely cited data set is his chronology based on trees from the Yamal Peninsula. Presently there is a dispute over the interpretation of this data, based on criticisms leveled by Stephen McIntyre. He is frequently mentioned because of the Climategate controversy,” which is obviously a true statement.



  1. It isn’t just that they tagteam, but they do their best to make sure everyone else is topic banned or otherwise hamstringed in order to keep up their artificial numerical superiority.

    Their tactics are blazingly obvious, but as long as they continue to be protected by certain admins and keep the drama level high enough so that other wikipedians avoid their “turf” like the plague then they’ll continue with their thuggish tactics.

  2. GR,

    An interesting post and thanks for bringing this to the attention of a wider public.

    However, as you are probably aware, I would likely support much of these editors’ application of the BLP policy as correct in this case of Keith Briffa — except for the speedy deletion bit, which, if true, is a clear violation of policy.

    Also, I think you need to be clear that there are always other ways for these editors — Connolley, Petersen & Schulz — to collaborate that doesn’t involve offline communication or any explicit violation of the rules.

    It is my suspicion that they simply each have huge watchlists and that they watch each other’s edits. I don’t think this, technically, is a violation of the rules.

    The bigger problem with the behaviour of this clique of editors is the double standard applied when dealing with the biographies of climate change skeptics — and of course the bullying of skeptical editors.

    I am enjoying your blog, though, and I’ve added it to my RSS feed.

    Best wishes,
    Alex Harvey

  3. You are correct that they may only be collaborating on-wiki, it is certainly conceivable and not all that unlikely, but the tag team behavior is a problem regardless of how they are collaborating.

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