Link tampering at Troppo?

This comment at Club Troppo is interesting.

It now contains a link to this document that contains this statement.

In 1990, Dr Mark Diesendorf, coordinator of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Global Change Program, criticised statements by Dr Brian O’Brien, formerly head of the WA Environmental Protection Authority, which minimised the likely impacts of the greenhouse effect. Diesendorf also pointed out that O’Brien’s employment as a consultant to the coal industry should be taken into account when evaluating his views. O’Brien has now issued proceedings against both Diesendorf and the ACF.

Yet earlier it contained a link to this document that contained this statement.

I sent a draft of this chapter to O’Brien, inviting his comments. In reply he pointed out that he had publicly stated and published his views on the greenhouse effect before having any contact with the coal industry.

So when and why did the substitution occur? Mind you the original link is far more informative. It tells us the outcome of the defamation action.

O’Brien responded by suing Mark and the ACF for defamation but not, interestingly, the newspapers that had reported Mark’s comments. The ACF took on the defence, briefing its lawyers. As in many cases, it never went to court. After many months, a settlement was reached. The ACF published an apology. Why did the ACF agree to publish an apology? Basically, it would have been too expensive even to win the case. The ACF would have had to pay its own legal costs, and there was a slim chance of losing. The ACF is not a rich organisation. It receives most of its income from donations and subscribers. It could hardly afford a major pay-out. The expedient course was to settle the case and avoid further costs.

The substitution of one link for another goes beyond fixing minor errors or providing additional information. In this case it actually reduces the information available to readers.

Update: Ken Parish strongly denies that any change to the post has occurred at the Club Troppo side and Jacques suggests that the explanation is a cut n paste error. In the absence of any other evidence or explanation we should accept this explanation.

Update II: Tim Lambert clarifies.

There are two versions of the story by Brian Martin, one I’ll call H92 published in 1992 in Habitat Australia, and SS4 a book chapter published in 1997. SS4 has a little more information:

I sent a draft of this chapter to O’Brien, inviting his comments. In reply he pointed out that he had publicly stated and published his views on the greenhouse effect before having any contact with the coal industry. In my view, this does not affect my assessment of the case.

In my comment @236 I put in a link to SS4 because it had more information. But the link there now goes to H92. And I’m sure that no-one edited my comment, because I still had that window open on another computer so I have a snapshot of what the comments at Troppo looked like just after I posted, and the link then went to H92. Moreover, the URL has the file name 92habitat.html which implies that it’s a link to H92. If it was just me, I’d guess that I’d just pasted the wrong URL into my comment. But it wasn’t just me. Rafe followed the link and posted part of the passage I quoted above, though leaving out the last sentence where Martin said that O’Brien’s reply didn’t affect his assessment (it doesn’t affect mine either). So he got a copy of SS4 at the link to BH92 as well.

I also looked at the Google cache of BH92. Or rather, tried to, since I get an error message “This webpage has a redirect loop”. The only thing I can think of is that there was temporary problem with the web server returning the wrong page.

So the facts are that a link has changed from what was first posted as alleged in this post. What is unclear is how that happened. Link rot is annoying enough – random substitution is going to make things a lot more annoying.

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29 Responses to Link tampering at Troppo?

  1. JC says:

    I find this absoltuely chilling if this is what occurs in academia (and appears it does). I looked at Tim Lambert’s link and saw the sentence reading through the text. In fact I have recorded proof it was there with a time stamp.

    Then it’s gone.

    I’ve never seen anything like it. Incredible.

  2. JC says:

    The only thing I can figure as the possibility is that author being linked to changed what was being linked to as I can’t think of anything else.

  3. C.L. says:

    So the following crucial info was airbrushed:

    – that O’Brien hadn’t had a thing to do with coal when he published his views;

    – the ACF folded and recanted its false claim.

    And the replacement link allows uninformed readers to subscribe to the coal conspiracy theory and perhaps interpret the legal action as unresolved or even, conceivably, vexatious.

    So somebody moved html around to buttress the conspiracy theory, is that right?

  4. wreckage says:

    Read Windschuttle’s “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History”. It’s standard practice, even in print media.

  5. Dandy Warhol says:

    It’s what happens at the ‘radical centre’, Sinclair!

    The strong tension created by furious agreement must have interfered with the electrons at the host site.

    John Stone had a similar problem with a paper presented by David Kemp at the National Archives, a few years ago, on the occasion of the release of some Fraser-era cabinet papers. The report on the day clearly had Kemp saying ‘Stone told me … ‘ (something or other). And yet when Stone disagreed, and went to check the online (and now archived) version, the words had been changed to ‘I was told …’

    Nobody at the archives, nor Kemp, admitted to the switch, even though Stone had the physical evidence of the original in front of him.

    Sneaky, non?

  6. Sinclair Davidson says:

    JC – it’s not academia, its a blog.

  7. rog says:

    If you want you can view all of Brian Martins publications here.

    So (in 25 words or less) what exactly is the issue?

    Freedom of expression? Transgression of human rights?

  8. TerjeP says:

    Rog – I think the accusation is “link tampering”. Not a criminal offense just poor form.

  9. Louis Hissink says:

    Anyone reads Club Troppo, Lambert or Quiggin????

  10. whyisitso says:

    Club Troppo used to be an honourable blog when it was under the sole control of Ken Parish. It was one of the earliest political blogs in the Australian blogosphere and always carried good debates in its comments. Not that I agreed with too many of Ken’s postings, and I thought his self-description as a centrist was rather disingenuous – much more soft left in my view. He now posts from time to time, but I think control has pased to Nick Gruen, an academic much further to the left than Ken.

    It’s sad to see its decline.

  11. Rafe Champion says:

    rog. Lying by ommission. TL put up a link that shot him in the foot so he substituted one that was “clean” because it did not give essential information.

    Sorry, 28 words if you count TL as one word.

    [Rafe – that can’t happen. Poster can’t edit comments once they have been posted. Sinc]

  12. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I don’t doubt that Nick is actually quite far to the left, but he isn’t an academic. Nick is an intellectual entrepreneur – it’s a tough gig and he works very hard.

  13. Tim Quilty says:

    I used to read Club Troppo as much as I did the Cat, now I find myself giving it a quick scan about once a month. There is no doubt it has swung to the left, and developed a stronger editorial opinion. Also shucked most of it’s non-left readers and commenters. Still quite like the odd post from KP, I normally leave Nick and his Krugman love-sessions to themselves.

  14. rog says:

    So you are saying that Lambert hacked into Troppo and changed the link? For what reason – the Brian Martin website has all that material and more.

    No evidence no motive no crime…another Catallaxy brain fart.

  15. JC says:

    No Rog

    No one is saying Lambert hacked into anything. However there is time stamped evidence the quote existed as I would never have known about the existence of the quote unless I saw it on Lambert’s link.

    For what reason

    Because a few lines down Shiny’s first link of the original text it contained the sentence that destroyed Shiny’s argument.

    My thinking was that the author changed the link info, not Troppo.

    Of course you don’t understand any of this because you never finished high school and may be of average complexity, thereby making it too difficult for you appreciate.

  16. rog says:

    Just quickly JC, as I have a bus to catch….what exactly is the benefit of this alleged subterfuge?

  17. Ken n says:

    To be fair to Lambert, he must be one of very few online AGW protagonists who have no financial nterest in the issue. Most of the others receive rsearch grants or head bodirs whose existence is dependent on AGW.
    In fact, the amount of time he spends on it has possibly harmed his career.

  18. JC says:

    ….what exactly is the benefit of this alleged subterfuge?

    I wouldn’t call it subterfuge, Rog as I don’t think it rises to the level of impeachment.

    The benefit is pretty clear in my mind.

    One text contains a sentence that clearly destroys, Lambert’s claim against Rafe about O’Brien. The other text doesn’t contain that sentence and gets Lambert of the hook.

  19. Sinclair

    I think you may be mistaken. The link in the comment itself could only have been edited by Ken, Nick or me. Ken didn’t do it and I didn’t do it either. I imagine Nick will be found not to have done so also.

    As for the other end of the link, I make no claims, but it would seem like a lot of bother for small stakes.

  20. JC says:


    Is a change to the link possible from the author’s side by swapping the text?

    But you’re right it is small crap. Funny though, how in most things there’s a freaking angle to anything Lambert touches.

  21. Possible, but I just don’t think anyone would bother. Too far a bridge for too small a payoff.

    I think you just got two things mixed up, is all. I’ve done that often enough when coding. Oracle databases get quite huffy when confronted with Ruby code.

  22. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Jacques – I’m happy to believe neither you nor Rafe nor Ken (or others) edited the link and that Tim Lambert didn’t hack the site. That does leave unexplained why the link is different now to what it first was.

  23. rog says:

    The benefit is pretty clear in my mind.

    Means nothing to me

  24. JC says:

    Means nothing to me

    Lol. I’d be shocked otherwise.

  25. Sinclair;

    I think simple mistake is at work here. The best theory I’ve seen at Troppo is a copy & paste error.

  26. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Jacques – excellent news.

  27. Oh good – threats of legal action have broken out at Troppo.

    Geoffrey Robertson will be on TV opining on the matter any minute now.

  28. Peter Patton says:

    There ARE blogs, which doctor the threads once they’ve fallen off the bottom of the page. I haven’t taken notice for a while, but it used to go on quite a bit at one or two.

  29. Peter Patton says:

    By the way, CT is in no way implicated in my post above.

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