Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

Lynn Truss‘ book on punctuation “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” received astonishing coverge.

The title of the book is based on the following joke:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons. ‘Why?’ asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. ‘Well, I’m a panda,’ he says, at the door. ‘Read the manual.’ The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

‘Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

Had the manual been written by Peter Gleick, the manual would have read “eats, shoots, and leaves”.

Mosher noticed the distinctive comma punctuation of the forged memo once he started looking at the memo for “high-entropy” characteristics and reported this finding in his first comment at Lucia’s, which fingered Gleick as the author of the forged memo. In the critical paragraph of the forged Confidential Memo, there are no fewer than three distinct examples of Gleickian commas:

through his Forbes blog and related high profile outlets, our conferences, and through coordination with external networks

other groups capable of rapidly mobilizing responses to new scientific findings, news stories, or unfavorable blog posts

the more extreme AGW communicators such as Romm, Trenberth, and Hansen

Parallels were then sought in Gleick’s unedited comments and didn’t take long to find. His review of Donna Laframboise had been derided at Judy Curry’s because it showed no evidence that Gleick had actually read the book. But no one commented on Gleick’s comma punctuation in that review, which was observed to match the forged memo. Here are a few examples:

Lies, misrepresentations, and a bible for climate change deniers

lies, misrepresentations, and falsehoods

those who hate science, fear science, or are afraid that if climate change is real

Maybe Gleick will get mentioned in the next edition of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”.

302 Comments

  1. Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 4:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Of all the things Gleick did commit
    That gives me the least trauma
    This fashion’s rising up a bit:
    It’s just the Oxford Comma.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 7:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

      There’s no relation between “eats, shoots, and leaves” and the form of punctuation used by Gleick, i.e., “eats shoots, leaves, and whole trees.”

      The comma after “eats” in the first case indicates that what follows is a string of verbs in the singular form, which is an egregious error if what was intended was a list of plural nouns in the accusative case.

    • Gdn
      Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 6:27 PM | Permalink | Reply

      I would like to dedicate this article to my children, Rachel and God.

      This is how my English teachers taught me to use commas. I think they are wrong. :)

  2. SCheesman
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 4:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I believe this is what is known as the “Oxford comma”, more commonly used by Brits and Canadians.

    Steve: “by Brits, and Canadians” :)

    I’ve never noticed this form of punctuation in Canada before. I’m not saying that it “never” occurs, but its use is rare. I’ve not noticed it in Heartland documents either. In itself, it doesn’t “prove” that Gleick was the author of the forged memo, but, as Mosher observes, Gleick had means, motive and opportunity to author the forged memo, quite aside from this and numerous other style characteristics of the forged memo that are also observed in Gleick’s unedited style.

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:13 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Did you mean “..Gleick had means, motive, and opportunity..”? just kidding.
      But for what it’s worth, I for one use the Oxford comma more often than not. That’s how many of us in the US were trained in school.

      I think there would need to be a more unique signature styling than that to reach any suggestion of authorship. It may be a necessary condition, but it wouldn’t be sufficient.

      • Fred Harwood
        Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

        I, too, use the comma before and in a series, as I was taught in US school. Also, Strunck and White ……….

        • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:54 PM | Permalink

          Isn’t that in the AP style book?

          Thanks
          JK

        • Michael Jankowski
          Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:13 PM | Permalink

          As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed I’m one of the few people who regularly uses Oxford Commas.

          My fellow alums Vampire Weekend wrote a song about the optional “,” including mentions of lies and tricks.

          “…Check your passport
          It’s no trick
          Take the chapstick
          Put it on your lips
          Crack a smile
          Adjust my tie
          Know your butler, unlike other guys
          Why would you lie about how much coal you have?
          Why would you lie about something dumb like that?
          Why would you lie about anything at all?
          First the window, then it’s through the wall
          Why would you tape my conversations?
          Show your paintings
          At the United Nations
          Lil’ Jon, he always tells the truth…”

        • AJ
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:01 PM | Permalink

          While were on the topic of punctuation, let’s not forget about the Georgia Satellites.

          “I Love Your Period”

          http://www.youtube.com/artist/Dan_Baird?feature=watch_video_title

        • gary turner
          Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:35 PM | Permalink

          That is rule #2 in Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

          “In a Series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each except the last.

          Thus write,

          red, white, and blue

          gold, silver, or copper

          He opened the letter, read it, and made note of its contents.”

          cheers,

          gary

        • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:52 PM | Permalink

          Same here. I went to school in rural Virginia in the late 60s and 70s. I was taught that “a, b, and c” and “a, b and c” are both grammatically correct. But using the latter always seemed to be to be grouping b and c together while segregating a. I tend to use the former construct.

        • Ben of Houston
          Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

          I was taught in the 90s to always comma everything to avoid grouping the final two list items. For example, in a last will and testament, leaving your will to “Joseph, John, James and Jane” means Joesph and John each get a third and James and Jane split the remaining third while “Joseph, John, James, and Jane” splits it four ways.

    • Jan
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:38 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Actually, it is the way I was taught to punctuate by a Grade 4 grammarian taskmaster. I do know, however, that very few that use that convention and I frequently ignore it as the lack of a comma after ‘and’ seems to be a more modern convention.

      I think there are better ‘tells’ in the forged document than an Oxford comma.

    • Tom Gray
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:16 PM | Permalink | Reply

      I was taught this form of punctuation in the public school system of Ontario. It is the serial or Oxford comma

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

      It is proper grammar and we use it in Australia. I was brought up with that form of punctuation.

      • Dave
        Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Well, no doubt, but having mark many thousands of essays, reports, and exams in Australian tertiary institutions, my impression is that commas are now used randomly, if at all. But then, they used to call me ‘the comma-nazi’.

  3. Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

    ‘Gleick. Lanky black-and-white-bearded human, native to New York City. Forges, shoots himself in foot, and resigns.’

    • ChE
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

      (but shall return)

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

      I hear someone who is used to hearing himself speak, pausing when appropriate, and then continuing.

      I looked him up on You tube. Too funny. His beard makes a black patch round his mouth while the rest of the beard is white. Panda-mouth. His speech sounds very convincing by the timbre and flow though no doubt Mosher would spot something anomalous. Perhaps his total, total inability to listen to James Taylor without his head “exploding”. A True Believer.

      Feet shoots, and believes.

  4. Richard Osborne
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:04 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I’m surprised that you consider the use of the Oxford comma such a definitive pointer. It really isn’t that distinctive; many people use that style.

    • neill
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:44 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Not the only one. It was part of a pattern.

  5. Warren Meyer
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Yes,the Oxford comma: http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/what-is-the-oxford-comma

    Not just for the English. It is how I was taught in the good old US of A. Generally considered, I believe, to be a grammatically correct alternative. Though that is not to say it does not engender much controversy: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/03/22/copyediting-commas/

    • stan
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:11 PM | Permalink | Reply

      The way I was taught in a NJ public school in the 60s.

    • Rhoda Ramirez
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:32 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Also taught in the Ohio schools in the 50s. Or at least the one I was enrolled in. Got dinged on it when I worked in the Govt – they apparently pay for commas separately.

  6. robin
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The ‘extra’ commas, probably narrowed it down to a few hundred million or so. Add the pacific timezone to and you are down to ~10 million. Add the writer considered Gleick to be a “highprofile climate scientist” at the epicentre of the global warming struggle and you are down to Peter Gleick and perhaps his mother.

    As far as I remember we were taught to use commas like that, depending on ambiguity, eg: “Chapters, Barnes and Nobel, and Amazon”. Of course spoken/written language is always bad at A or B and C. My preference would be to use parens in those cases : ).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma

    • Duster
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:00 AM | Permalink | Reply

      That’s pretty much the way I learned it. My Senior English teacher always insisted that we use that comma unless the items joined by the “and” were actually a compound item. In the “eats, shoots, and leaves” joke the comma after “eats” is really an error. Leaving it out the panda eats shoots, then leaves the premises.

      • Michael
        Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 2:35 AM | Permalink | Reply

        No, he eats, presumably from bamboo, shoots and leaves

  7. robin
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:14 PM | Permalink | Reply

    (I do think it only is a question in a list of three or more – with only two items you don’t use a comma unless you need one for other reasons – haven’t noticed him using it in a list of two though)

  8. Roddy
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:16 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve, I only mention this because Lynn Truss might – your header should read ‘Lynn Truss’s book on punctuation….’?

    Opinions differ, Wikipedia says even the US Supreme Court judges vary for possessive nouns ending in s, but the general rule seems to be to follow the pronunciation where possible, and you would certainly say ‘Lynn Truss’s book’.

  9. Joe Born
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Maybe someone can correct me since I don’t have my Chicago Manual of Style handy, but I believe that, at least through its 12th edition, that standard American reference work prescribed the serial comma, i.e., the comma before the “and” or “or” in a series of three or more. It is entirely common among American writers, although I’ve noticed that it has for some time now become less common among reporters.

    • MJW
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:50 PM | Permalink | Reply

      The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., recommends using the serial comma.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:16 PM | Permalink | Reply

        “e.g., ” was another punctuation used in the forged memo that I don’t ever use (I would use “e.g.” without a comma). I searched CA for examples and it popped here and there, but only in academic articles. Is this academic styling or do non-academics use this punctuation as well?

        • MJW
          Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:49 PM | Permalink

          I follow e.g. with a comma, and the Chicago Manual of Style says to always follow i.e. and e.g. with a comma.

        • Steve McIntyre
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:01 AM | Permalink

          The Chicago Manual of Style is a guide for academic writing. The usage seems mildly academic – like something that an editor pointed out in an article. I noticed it because it’s not a usage that I’ve ever thought about before; nor one that I would have thought of as mandatory. More as an academic style.

        • MJW
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:08 AM | Permalink

          That’s true. The Manual describes its core constituency as “writers and editors of scholarly books and journals.”

        • DocMartyn
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Permalink

          when you write a paper it is always a comma after a period which is not a full stop.

          et al., e.t.c., e.g.,

          In references it is McIntyre, S., Sharpe, D.O.C.,

          Using two spaces after a full stop indicates someone 45+, they learn to type either on typewriters or on very early computers.
          Using justified text older folks hate :-
          . Thehe and use. Thehe

          People, like me, who never know when to use : or ;, tend to use :-, which British printers call the ‘dogs bollocks’.
          The hot metal newspaper setters could never be sure if the written text they were given by (drunken British journalists was a : or ; , and used to substitute :- just in case.
          In Britain, when something is very good, it is the ‘dogs bollocks’.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:33 PM | Permalink

          In references it is McIntyre, S., Sharpe, D.O.C.,

          that’s the smoking gun! Academics are so used to giving strings of references in this way, they are going to tend to do dot comma as default in other places, from sheer habit.

        • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:58 PM | Permalink

          I chucked at this little sample
          Such “mistakes” don’t survive closer looks
          Use a comma, just like “for example,”
          As I do when I’m editing books

          But this is a US-based style
          That is not enforced in the UK
          Nor would you need it, though perhaps I’ll
          See it rather more common someday:

          http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/abbreviations.htm

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:47 AM | Permalink

          there was one other comma oddity.

          hmm lemme look again

        • Mark F
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:00 AM | Permalink

          I use it as a matter of habit, for example, …..

        • Eric Anderson
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:07 AM | Permalink

          Use it all the time.

        • QBeamus
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:16 AM | Permalink

          The comma after the “e.g.” is consistent with the Blue Book”–Harvard Law School’s bible for legal citation form.

        • Jon
          Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 2:04 AM | Permalink

          e.g., is obvious. You would write, “For example, …”. The comma belongs because the leading clause is stylistic only.

          e.g. is exempli gratia. Literally for the sake of example.

          Notice in that last sentence no comma follows the e.g.. That’s because it was the subject of an independent clause.

          Let me chime in here that I was taught to use the comma before the conjunction in a list. It is fairly standard American grammar for someone educated on the East Coast.

        • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 6:15 PM | Permalink

          Most American scholars use the comma before the “and” that precedes the last item in a list. It is desirable to do so because it avoids ambiguity in a list that may include an item such as “a and b”. Thus, for example, in the list: a, b, c and d, and e.

          Note, also, the commas around the phrase “for example”. Likewise, commas should surround “e.g.” when used as an abbreviation for the same parenthetic phrase.

          Get a copy of Strunk and White, Steve, and learn to punctuate properly.

        • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 8:28 PM | Permalink

          I would almost think here you were joking:
          Can you really be that unaware?
          As discussed here, the man you are poking
          Is not US, he is “over there”

          He’s in Canada, where the convention
          Is not to use commas that way
          It’s discussed here, so your re-invention
          Of these issues is late to the fray

          ===|=============/ Keith DeHavelle

        • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:17 AM | Permalink

          “Can you really be that unaware?”

          Unaware of what?

          That Peter Gleick is an American, who uses correct punctuation according to the most eminent American stylist of the 20th century?

        • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 12:26 PM | Permalink

          I am amused that you don’t know
          What you are unaware of. Go
          Back to the comments, yours and mine
          See where you wandered off the line

          When you told Steve to “get a copy”
          And mend his ways, you acted sloppy
          Our host here is not Peter Gleick
          And that lad’s punctuation’s sick

          Gleick uses commas for his causes
          Beyond the Oxford bit. His clauses
          Encapsulate in awkward places
          But such are Gleick’s stylistic traces

          You’re not Gleick, just a defender
          Unwitting obfuscation vendor?
          If you now had to make a choice,
          Who wrote that memo in Gleick’s voice?

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  10. johanna
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:31 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Yep, we use the Oxford comma in Australia too. As Truss points out, the writer has to be careful that indiscriminate use does not alter the intended meaning.

    A commonly cited example of how a comma can save lives is the sentence “Let’s eat, Grandma.”

  11. ZT
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:31 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Serial commas are well known side effect of North Korean mind control drugs.

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Or from eating Alphabits
      ;)

      • Andrew
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:19 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Both comments are, exceedingly insightful, witty and clever, and, in additions to making me chuckle, they caused me to ponder the usage of the comma. How does one apply proper comma usage in a blog format, when one comment, ZT’s, is replied to by Jeff Alberts?

        For example, Jeff did not use any punctuation, however, he did capitalize properly, including the proper noun. But,(I pause and ponder) Jeff’s sentence was not a sentence, so was his capitalization, in fact, proper?

        I posit the proper way would be:

        …or from eating Alphabits. ;-)

        But, I am easily confused, sometimes. (like now…did I use any comma’s properly?) I loved diagramming sentences on the chalkboard in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was way more fun than writing on the chalkboard 100 times…”I will stop annoying the teacher by taking her so literal”

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:26 PM | Permalink

          -ly :-)

        • Andrew
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 8:15 PM | Permalink

          damn, lol

  12. Steve E
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:35 PM | Permalink | Reply

    As I recall from J-School, according to the CP Style book (Canadian Press Style Book) (oops I used parenthesis) :-) the serial comma is not the accepted use in Canadian journalism.

    “Following CP, do not use the serial comma (the comma before “and” in lists of three or more items: “The colours of the U.S. flag are red, white and blue.”).” Source: McMaster University. Sorry, CP charges for the style guide.

    But of course, CP Caps and Spelling favours the U.S. spelling of favors etc.

    • SeanNY
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Many years ago I learned the opposite (i.e. that you should use the comma) from a friend of mine who attended journalism school in the US. But he is a contrarian, so maybe they taught him the same rule as in Canada, and he was just rebelling.

      Regardless, he was so emphatic on this point that ever since then I always notice whether someone uses the extra comma or not, and in my experience use of the extra comma is exceedingly rare in the US.

  13. Roddy
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:36 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Browsing on the apostrophe, I found:

    Kingsley Amis, on being challenged to produce a sentence whose meaning depended on a possessive apostrophe, came up with:

    Those things over there are my husband’s. (Those things over there belong to my husband.)
    Those things over there are my husbands’. (Those things over there belong to several husbands of mine.)
    Those things over there are my husbands. (I’m married to those men over there.)

    • Punksta
      Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 3:22 AM | Permalink | Reply

      On the apostrophe:

      “Lynn Truss‘ book…” ?

      Surely

      “Lynn Truss’s book… ” ie spelled as you say it.

      (And I wonder what Truss herself would say).

      • Perry
        Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 4:35 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Punksta,

        Mayhap this will help. James’ or James’s?

        If a singular noun ends with an s-sound (spelled with -s, -se, for example), practice varies as to whether to add ‘s or the apostrophe alone. A widely accepted practice is to follow whichever spoken form is judged better: the boss’s shoes, Mrs Jones’ hat (or Mrs Jones’s hat, if that spoken form is preferred). In many cases, both spoken and written forms differ between writers.

        Go to “General principles for the possessive apostrophe” section. Titmice’s tails indeed!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostrophe

  14. Victor Eigen
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I, for one, see nothing wrong with using commas to delineate items in a list, to set off certain adverbs, or to separate clauses in a sentence.

  15. Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 5:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The serial comma is required in lists of three or more unweighted items, ending with a conjunction, because the potential for changing the meaning occurs when it is not used.

    Example:

    I leave my estate to my sons, Larry, Mo, and Curly.

    This is the correct form which apportions 1/3 of the estate to each.

    I leave my estate to my sons, Larry, Mo and Curly.

    This incorrect as the primary interpretation of the legal system would be to give half the estate to Larry. Mo and Curly split the other half.

    • JEM
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:40 PM | Permalink | Reply

      The Truss dispute is, so far as I understand, not with the comma preceding the conjunction but with the comma preceding the list.

      Were I writing this, I’d have written “…to my sons Larry, Mo, and Curly.”

      Oxford comma but none preceding Larry.

      • Graeme W
        Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Actually, I disagree. There is a difference between the two forms if the person has four or more sons. In the original case, the statement refers to sons, and then clarifies by listing them. In your revised example, you are only leaving the estate to the three sons named, with the implication being that any other sons get nothing.

        If, for example, a fourth son was born between the time of writing the will and the death of the writer, a court in the first case could realistically allocate the estate to all four sons, because the intent was clearly to leave things to “my sons”. But in the second case the writer is clearly leaving his estate to ONLY the sons explicitly named.

        • JEM
          Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:40 PM | Permalink

          You are perhaps correct in your interpretation but as far as I’m concerned that’s a feature, not a bug.

          If I am enumerating Larry, Mo, and Curly then that’s who I want covered by the statement.

          If I want other sons not listed (including those not yet born) to be included in equal shares with those who are, then I’d say so.

      • QBeamus
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Reply

        I concur with Graeme. When listing one’s sons, the preceding comma is correct, because the list means the same thing as “my sons.” The list is a parenthetical phrase providing additional information. For example, “Meet my mother, Martha.” Or “Tonight the Giants, the reigning Superbowl Champtions, play.”

        On the other hand, if the intent is not to list your sons, but simply to describe the people listed as being one’s offspring, then “my sons” can simply be an adjectival phrase, and no comma is required (but is still correct if used).

    • SeanNY
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Reply

      I don’t think a judge would interpret those two sentences differently, as you suggest. And even as a matter of English construction, I think Graeme’s point would be correct if we we were discussing the use of a comma immediately following the word sons. Perhaps a probate lawyer could clarify?

  16. ROM
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The Australian version referring to an Australian native animal and applied in a different context is “Wombat.”

    “Eats roots and leaves!”

    • mondo
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

      The version I chuckled at when I was a kid was “Eats, roots, shoots and leaves!”

      • David Brewer
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:04 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Ed McBain’s version was the headline in the paper about a madman who escaped from the asylum and committed rape: “Nuts, bolts, and screws”. “The Men from the Ministry” had a bottle shop called “Man, Tipples, and Grieves” which sold a particularly strong brew called “Ale, and Farewell”. – Sorry, but thought you would like to know.

    • geronimo
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 8:42 AM | Permalink | Reply

      I’m not sure that “roots” will have any resonance in the US, otherwise it’s very funny to the cognoscenti.

      • cdquarles
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Re: geronimo (Mar 2 08:42), In parts of the Southern US ‘roots’ will have resonance. It is archaic these days but usually spelled ‘ruts’ and is applied to deer hunting season. Typical colloquialisms from the 60s and 70s is hump or screw.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:52 PM | Permalink

          I guessed the meaning but would have known it right away with ‘ruts’, the rutting season being familiar with deer – though whether that’s from the UK or from New Zealand, where my uncle used to farm the lovely animals, I’m not absolutely sure.

  17. ChE
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:04 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Serial commas, aren’t so common, but not (really), that quirky,
    But add in (random) parenthesis, and (now), you’re talking turkey.

  18. MarkB
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    In the Boston Public Schools of the 1960s, I would have been stood up in the corner if I put a serial comma before ‘and.’

    “Tom, Bob and Jim.”

  19. Geezer
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    So sayeth Will Strunk:
    http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk.html#2

  20. diogenes
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I know that the old-timers really approve of this “strict” approach to punctuation but how many times have you seen a panda, an animal lacking opposable thumbs, shoot a gun? It is simply an argument based on absurdity. If you read the sentence without any commas, how would you construe it?

    Please no one tell me how the punctuation is critical. I have read all those arguments before. They are still unconvincing. The only way that punctuation helps is by creating a surreal situation whereby a panda could fire a pistol. In other words, punctuation creates ambiguity rather than dispelling it, when used without a sense of style.

    • Duster
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:07 AM | Permalink | Reply

      So, you would not feel the least bit concerned if your friends were passing around an note that read, “let’s eat Diogenes.”

      • diogenes
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Duster…obviously not. The ambiguity does not exist. It only esxist if you start to use punctuation to create shades of meaning. Most legal texts in English do not emply punctuation other than full stops. Duster, if your friends wrote “let’s eat Duster”, would you be worried? You are speaking hypothetically, of course, but cannibals do not eat humans simply because therey cannot get to the local BurgerKing. Ritualistic elements are involved.

  21. Hector Pascal
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

    @ROM

    The Australian version Circa 1980.

    “The Wombat: eats, roots, shoots and leaves.”

    In Australia, the verb “rooting” has a very specific meaning.

  22. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

    In response to comments that the “Oxford comma” does not in itself zero in on Gleick, as numerous other people use that style.

    You’re missing the point.

    The test is relevant to people who had means, motive and opportunity to author the forged memo, not everyone in the world.

    The thing that pointed to Gleick was the “America’s Dumbest Criminal” thing: Gleick is named in the forged Confidential Strategy memo, not the Oxford comma. It’s merely one of a number of style issues that characterize Gleick’s style, but, to my knowledge, no other people that might have had access to the authentic Heartland documents, possession of which was a prerequisite for the forgery.

    • Robert of Ottawa
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:05 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Why do I have a, sense of, deja vu,about this discussion? Not rhetorical, I really think that…

    • ChE
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:31 PM | Permalink | Reply

      There’s something Batmanish about leaving his calling card at the scene of the crime like that. What’s that, Robin? An umbrella?

    • John Vetterling
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:17 PM | Permalink | Reply

      It’s sort of a reverse prosecutors falsify. The question isn’t P(Gleick | serial comma use) the question is P(Gleick | serial commas & thinks Gleick is prominent climate scientist & uses term “anti-climate” & uses excessive parentheses and hyphens & thinks Revkin is moderate & thinks Curry is ally of HI & had means motive and opportunity & is in Pac time zone & other available evidence)

      Not a lot of people in that set.

    • Tom C
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Surely the most telling clue is the use of “anti-climate”. I have never seen anyone other than Gleick use this nonsensical phrase.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

        that’s the word that caught my eye early on as well. That’s why I called Mosher on the 16th about this. I spotted it in a Gleick tweet. “anti-climate” by itself, not “anti-climate science”.

        • Pat Frank
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:24 AM | Permalink

          “anti-climate science” is science that is hostile to climate. Maybe what Gleick is trying to transmit is ‘anti climate-science,’ which means hostile to the science of climate.

          Despite Gleick, anti climate-science is non-existent. Anti climax-science is real, of course, but widespread only south of the Mason-Dixon line.

          Plenty of people are hostile, though, to climate BS being passed off as climate-scripture. How did Willie Soon phrase it? Oh, yeah, GIGO: garbage in, gospel out.

          By the way, I always surround my ,e.g., and, i.e., with commas. Not only that but I put sentence-ending quotes outside periods, “too.” Hopelessly American.

        • PaddikJ
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:54 AM | Permalink

          My dad the English teacher insisted that punctuation always went inside of quotes – “The easiest rule of the English language because there are no exceptions.”

          He also taught us that if we preceded the penultimate “and” of a list with a comma (he never called it the Oxford Comma) we would always be correct, whereas omitting the comma was only correct in certain special circumstances. We might risk it after taking an advanced college composition course, but other than that should play it safe and use the comma.

          Of course that was the early ’70s, and being a boondocks H.S. English teacher, he had no idea that his advanced H.S. composition course would be considerably tougher than most college courses. I slept through most of my one college course but still got an ‘A’ on the basis of 2 or 3 short essays.

        • Wayne
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 9:48 AM | Permalink

          Please, let’s focus on the accumulated evidence. As Mosher himself said, the punctuation is like saying that the murdered was right-handed: it narrows the suspects but it’s not conclusive at all. I’d wager that many of us involved in technical work over-punctuate and over-think our writing because we’re very precise. The real clues to who forged the document are the self-glorification and the use of unique phrases such as “anti-climate” rather than “anti-climate science”.

          That said, my rule for quotations that come at the end of a sentence is:

          If the quoted material is a sentence or more, it gets its own punctuation; if it’s a fragment, it does not. If the sentence containing the quotation ends with the same punctuation as the quotation, the sentence’s redundant punctuation is left out. If the sentence containing the quotation and the quotation end with differing punctuation and one of them is a period, the period is left out.

          For example:

          1. I don’t think that this is “it”.

          2. He said, “Tom is an idiot.”

          3. He said, “Tom is an idiot”?

          4. He yelled, “Tom is an idiot!”?

          5. He asked, “Tom is an idiot?”

          6. He asked, “Tom is an idiot?”!

        • AndyL
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:27 AM | Permalink

          Pretty much what I learned, except that if there is a redundant full stop (aka period) then the one in the quotes is the one that is missed out, so

          2. He said, “Tom in an idiot”.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:06 AM | Permalink

          GIGO: garbage in, gospel out.

          Neat. Will use that before long.

        • tomdesabla
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:50 PM | Permalink

          Using the expression “anti-climate” is a thousand times more of an identifier than just using commas in a series.

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:10 PM | Permalink

          yes. zipfs law.

          I figure the comma thing is probably a 50/50 kind of identifier
          The parenthesis use is more rare, lets say 1 in 10
          anti-climate: pretty frickin unique.

          So start with 300 million suspects. This is just for play..

          150 million are comma abusers

          of that

          15 million are parenthesis abusers

          of that

          15,000 might be interested in climate

          of that

          1500 might know who Curry is

          of that

          150 might know who Heartland is

          of that

          15 might know gleick

          of that

          1.5 would use the word “anti climate”

          The half suspect is an interesting one.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:37 PM | Permalink

          It’s mighty unlikely that all those probabilities are independent – as even the most statistically-challenged readers will half suspect by the end.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 5:10 PM | Permalink

          Ya, one reader tried to express the same idea with a venn diagram analogy.

        • Copner
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:26 PM | Permalink

          There’s a few other indicators as well, e.g.

          1. Having access to Heartland 2010 form 990

          2. “AGW Communicators”

          The overlap is pretty small.

          Now the interesting thing, is you narrowing down was done essentially before you had any detail of how the real documents were obtained.

          Now we also know the memo must been created by somebody who had access to the real Heartland documents prior to February 13th (the date the memo was scanned), which narrows down the potential suspects to Heartland employees with access to board papers, and Gleick.

          So out of Heartland’s employees and Gleick, how many fit all the criteria already identified and also, fit other additional criteria we can add:

          1. Unable to correct understand Heartland’s financial spreadsheets

          2. Writing “the Heartland Institute” rather than “The Heartland Institute” in a supposedly official document

          3. Think Andrew Revkin might be considered a neutral voice in climate debates.

        • Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 12:09 AM | Permalink

          Ya. I think if you started with the pool of people who actually CARED about gleick and heartland, you’d be down to about 6 people in the entire universe.

    • theduke
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Steve is right. The person who did this came from a small “subset” (to use a familiar term) of AGW believers.

      Most people among those believers are not capable of doing something like this. This was an act committed by a person who had become unhinged.

      I just didn’t think it possible for someone as well known as Gleick to do it. Mosher did.

      It was the preponderance of all the similarities that pointed to Gleick. “Subset,” “anti-climate,” etc. The commas were merely the weakest link.

    • mpaul
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:02 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Aside from high-entropy words, to use Mosher phrase, the grammatical quirk I found most interesting was his frequent habit of surrounding a restrictive relative clauses in commas. For example, a sentence in the Gleickian style might be:

      The forger, of the strategy document, will eventually be caught.

      This is grammatically incorrect and quite odd. Whereas the Oxford comma is widely used, the practice of surrounding restrictive relative clauses with commas is exceedingly rare.

      • Rhoda Ramirez
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:42 AM | Permalink | Reply

        mpaul: This is a good point. Gleick does seem to have a clumsey writing style – those commas are totally unnecessary. Probably this would be more of an individual indicator than how the comma is used in a series of three or more.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 5:07 PM | Permalink

          I think he may also avoid the semi colon; have a look!

      • Wayne
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 9:55 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Yes, this appears to be an attempt at eliminating parenthetical statements like, “The forger (of the strategy document) will eventually be caught,” by turning the parenthetical statement into a clause.

        • Wayne
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:16 PM | Permalink

          [Wish we could edit postings to add something to the end.]

          Yes, this appears to be an attempt at eliminating parenthetical statements like, “The forger (of the strategy document) will eventually be caught,” by turning the parenthetical statement into a clause. This would indicate to me that he likes parenthetical statements — as many techies do — but was scolded for using them and developed the workaround of (incorrectly) substituting commas for parentheses.

          By the way, if my use of “–” is what some in this thread are referring to as double-dashes, this is fairly widely understood to stand for an “em” dash, as opposed to a minus sign or an “en” dash.

      • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Yup!

        that was his other comma oddities.

        Funnily, he would use parenthesis in his other writing instead of this
        comma mistake– the restrictive relative clause one; and, I found it quite annoying.

    • JJ
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:35 AM | Permalink | Reply

      The comma thing isn’t diagnostic. It is far too common.

      The double dash Gleick uses is more idiosyncratic — few others use them that way.

      “Anti-climate” certainly narrows the field.

      “Peter Gleick, superstar” either clinches Gleick or fingers the evil genius.

      • ChE
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Some word processors convert single dashes to double dashes under certain circumstances. I use dashes – like this – sometimes in writing. I forgot which, but at least one common program converts those to double automatically.

      • Kevin Hilde
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Permalink | Reply

        ” … or fingers the evil genious.”

        Oh geeze, here we go again …..
        Now the alarmists are gonna say is was McIntyre.

    • Area Man
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:48 AM | Permalink | Reply

      To be fair, this post focuses only on the comma use and goes so far as suggesting Gleick be included in future editions of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. The implication of this particular post is that Gleick’s comma use, on its own, is unusual and/or incorrect. It appears to be neither. That’s what folks are pointing out, irrespective of the other elements that point to Gleick.

      I respect your work enormously, by the way.

    • QBeamus
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Not to quibble, but your post doesn’t say anything about the other factors in the forged document that suggest Gleick is the author. Your post zeros in on the close punctuation. Worse, three out of three of the examples you called out are just lists of three or more items, for which there exists a clear, if not unanimously accepted, rule that insists on a comma.

      I find the other evidence of Gleick’s authorship very persuasive. The comma use is consistent with about 40% of the English speaking world, at a guess–and that 40% includes most of the better educated or more professional writers (outside of Canada, apparently).

      • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Reply

        If I was to refactor your final sentence as follows:

        This comma use is consistent with about 40% of the English speaking world, including the better educated and more professional writers, outside of Canada.

        would the latter comma imply that all the better educated and professional writers of the English speaking world were outside Canada?

        • QBeamus
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:41 PM | Permalink

          Er, I wouldn’t think so… I’d read that as consistent with what I wrote.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:07 PM | Permalink

          I wouldn’t read it that way, I agree, but, as well as the marginal comic effect, given the location of our esteemed host, I was wondering if it’s this kind of thing that leads lawyers in the UK to avoid commas almost completely in legal documents. Certainly it was passed on to me by my parents that a stray comma in a will led to a substantial legacy going to a person who was clearly not intended to receive it, and thus not to us (though before I was born or when I was very young). A genuinely painful incident in my father’s family – and not the first or the last of its kind. We underestimate the comma at our peril.

    • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Reply

      “In response to comments that the “Oxford comma” does not in itself zero in on Gleick, as numerous other people use that style.

      You’re missing the point. …”

      I don’t think so.

      The use of the comma is totally irrelevant because it is correct, as punctuation is understood by most well-educated Americans.

      But you seem to have trouble admitting the point.

      • Punksta
        Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Seems to me you do seem to miss the point Speccy. The question is not whether or not the Oxford comma is understood, or correct, but rather how widespread its use is.

        ( As it happens there is in the UK, a small minority of people who use Oxford spelling – the use of ‘z’ rather than ‘s’ in eg ‘organize’ – like American spelling. This too would act as a fingerprint ).

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Reply

        As you imply, of the persons who had means and opportunity, this points somewhat more to the “well-educated” Gleick than to (say) a clerk at Heartland.

        It also points to a “well-educated American” who uses this style of punctuation, as opposed to someone who doesn’t. At the outset, no one knew whether the author of the forged memo was even an American.

        The pdf of the forged memo was from the Pacific Time Zone. That was the first thing to be noticed. Again that didnt prove that Gleick was the author, but pointed away from the document originating at Heartland. The time zone was noticed before Gleick was mooted as probable author of the forged memo. Again, the time zone was consistent with Gleick; it didnt prove that it was Gleick.

        The time zone isn’t “irrelevant” even though it doesn’t “prove” that Gleick authored the forged memo.

        As noted elsewhere, a normal police investigation would examine Gleick’s computers.

  23. Gary
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 6:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    This being a post on grammar, I want to note the use of plural verbs with collective nouns — for example, “the Team are…” — apparently common in British English, but jarring to this American’s ears. This usage would point toward Steve Mc if he anonymously penned a fake memo.

    • Martin A
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:23 PM | Permalink | Reply

      “This being a post on grammar, I want to note the use of plural verbs with collective nouns — for example, “the Team are…” — apparently common in British English, but jarring to this American’s ears….”

      Dunno about American English but either can be correct in British English, depending on what you want to say.

      “The team are putting on their parachutes” sounds much better than “the team is putting on its parachutes”. So if it’s something done by the individual members of the team, you use “are”.

      But…

      “The team is top of the league” is right and “the team are top of the league is wrong” – on either side of the Atlantic. When it’s something done by the team as an entity, you use “is”.

      [And, if you are not an American, you put the final stop after the final quotation mark.]

      • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:43 PM | Permalink | Reply

        “The team are putting on their parachutes” sounds much better than “the team is putting on its parachutes”.

        If I may abscond
        With your point from beyond
        The Team-splitting pond
        Across which we were conned

        You’d have to go far
        To locate that “team are”
        In the US — the bar
        Says it’s single, like “star”

        So we’ve the odd construct
        Of “team is.” Being stuck
        with “their parachutes” sucked
        But that’s just it.

        We’re screwed.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

        What I want to know is, which is correct?

        There are a lot of people.
        There is a lot of people.

        The former is what I always say, but are we talking about the lot (singular) or the people (plural)?

        I know you wouldn’t say “there are a pride of lions”, but “there is” instead, at least that’s the way I understand it.

        The extensive mis-use of “there’s” and “here’s” when “there are” and “here are” are proper is what leads me to this question.

        • Brandon Shollenberger
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:44 AM | Permalink

          Jeff Alberts, both are actually correct. The two just have (slightly) different meanings. Consider these two sentences to see the distinction:

          There are a bunch of people.
          There is a crowd of people.

          As you should see, “lot” can be a noun or adverb. As a noun, you’ll say “is,” but as an adverb, you’ll say “are.” The reason for this becomes clear once you strip out the unnecessary parts of the sentences you provided:

          There are people.
          There is a lot.

          In addition to this, “lot” can be used as a verb, as in, “He lotted out the land.” It can also be used to refer to a specific type of person, “He’s a bad lot,” as well as a piece of land. This allows us to create silly sentences, like:

          I have a lot of lots to lot out to a lot of lots.

        • Brandon Shollenberger
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:48 AM | Permalink

          Actually, a better phrasing would be:

          I have lots of lots to lot out to a lot of lots.

          Anyway, the distinction between the two sentences you described isn’t that big a deal. Basically, if you say, “There is a lot of people,” you imply the people are in one group. If you say, “There are a lot of people,” you imply there are many people, though you don’t say anything about how “organized” they are.

        • QBeamus
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:54 AM | Permalink

          Sentences of the form “there are” are a hot-button issue among grammarians. English teachers, who adhere to the latinate rules, will tell you that “there” can’t be the subject of a sentence. Linguists, who point out that the latinate rules English teachers follow were mostly invented after the fact, in the 19th Century, say that it can.

          One linguist professor of mine “proved” the point with tag question formation. That’s the process by which a statement is converted to a question by adding “[to be] [pronoun]” to the end, where the [pronoun] is the pronoun form of the subject of the sentence. So “My car is back from the shop” becomes “My car is back from the shop, isn’t it?” Now try it with any sentence that begins with “There are …”

          Regardless, the object of a preposition is never the subject of a sentence. So in the sentence “There are a lot of people,” “people” is not the subject. The reason for the different conjugation in “there are a lot of people” and “there is a crowd of people” is the fact that “lot” is a mass noun (in modern usage) and “crowd” isn’t.

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:13 PM | Permalink

          The grammarians who tried to impose latin rulz on us were an odious lot. a pox on them.

        • Geezer
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:21 PM | Permalink

          Indeed. Kinda like the mathematicians who tried to impose algebraic rules on us.

        • Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 11:13 AM | Permalink

          you probably think that two negatives make a positive

        • Geezer
          Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 5:40 PM | Permalink

          I don’t think at all. I just follow the rulz: One plus one equals something; minus one times minus one equals something else, I imagine. I suspect I know less than half as much about mathematics as you know about grammar.

        • Geezer
          Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 8:27 PM | Permalink

          Alternative Reply #1: Do you mean negating a negation? Are you talking about words or numbers?

        • Geezer
          Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 8:28 PM | Permalink

          Alternative Reply #2: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

        • QBeamus
          Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 2:20 PM | Permalink

          I tend to agree. One example of their silliness is their insistance on the use of “I” instead of “me” in response to a question. For example: Q: “Who’s there?” A: “It is I,” instead of “It’s me.” This is how it would be in latin. But, of course, English evolved from the melange of German (Saxon) and French (Norman) languages after William the Bastard’s conquest. And in both French and German the answer would be “It’s me.” (“C’est moi.”)

          I normally prefer the normative approach to the positive approach of linguists. As a friend of mine once said, I don’t need someone to tell me how I actually speak–I already know that. I want to know how I ought to be speaking. But anyone who insists that English has been wrong since the day it was invented seems to me to be barking up the wrong tree.

        • CZ
          Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 6:24 AM | Permalink

          “And in both French and German the answer would be “It’s me.” (“C’est moi.”) ”

          Sorry to disagree, but the literal German equivalent “es ist mich” makes no sense at all! We say “Ich bin es” (literally “I am it”).

      • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Reply

        “The team is top of the league” is right and “the team are top of the league is wrong” – on either side of the Atlantic. When it’s something done by the team as an entity, you use “is”.

        Not so.

        Or not if you accept Winston Churchill, Nobel Laureate for literature as an authority. He used “are” with reference to “the Government,” as in:

        “That is what the Government are seeking to mutilate.”

        Speaking on the Parliament Bill: Hansard, November 11, 1947

  24. Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

    “Commas”
    Anyone remember “Flowers for Algernon”??

    MacArthur genius my tushy !!

  25. Steven Mosher
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    yes

    Lets be clear. I suspected Gleick based ONLY on the story told in the smoking paragraph.

    Steve called me in the 16th and mentioned the anti-climate phrase. he asked me to read the document more closely. I read it aloud to him and made running comments about the style.

    based on that I made a prediction:

    If you read his unedited prose you will find TWO odd things: an odd use of commas and an odd use of parenthesis.

    Like so: I examine a knife wound. I conclude that the stabber was left handed.

    That doesnt mean he’s the only lefthanded person. Finding other lefthanded people doesnt prove that our left handed killer is not guilty.

    Steve then went and found a letter to Peilke. I went to Judiths blog to look at comments.

    But, the prime bit for me was making sense of the STORY told in that paragraph.

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

      All agree that your antennae rose
      When you looked at the Gleick-touting prose
      And you called it right off!
      No one’s writing to scoff —
      We’re just getting somewhat commatose.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:15 PM | Permalink | Reply

      If you read his unedited prose you will find TWO odd things: an odd use of commas and an odd use of parenthesis.

      (An odd use of parenthesis suggests that only one parenthesis, rather than a pair of parentheses, was used. :-)

  26. Artemus
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:19 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I don’t see what the joke cited has to do with the phrases from the forged memo. In “eats, shoots and leaves”, “eats” is the verb of the sentence. The inclusion of the comma indicates a grouping, so “shoots” and “leaves” are grouped with “eats” and should also be interpretted as verbs and not nouns. That greatly changes the meaning. The lack or inclusion of the Oxford comma is irrelevant. The examples from the memo are all clearly noun groupings. The Oxford comma may be included or omitted per personal preference or standards of the publication in which the writing is to be published.

    In the mid-western US in the late 1960s I was taught to always included it. I thought all Americans were taught that way. Maybe it was just for those of us in flyover land.

    And yes, I realize I like to use a lot of commas as well.

    • Artemus
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:21 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Uh, “taught to always include it.”

  27. Martin A
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:28 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Not “taught always to include it” then?

    • Artemus
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

      I believe that split infinitives are common enough now that they are considered acceptable in most communication. (I certainly didn’t realize I had typed one until you pointed it out.) The language has always been evolving. It is rather ridiculous that one style was declared “perpetually correct” in 18??, thus causing the current debate regarding the use of the Oxford comma. If splitting the infinitive has no effect whatsoever on the meaning, why does anyone possibly care?

      • Artemus
        Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Wish I could edit my comments so I didn’t have to keep replying to myself, but Wikipedia comes to my rescue on this critical topic (and we all know that source is always reliable :) : “However, most modern English usage guides have dropped the objection to the split infinitive.[2]”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split_infinitive

        • Martin A
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:37 AM | Permalink

          “If splitting the infinitive has no effect whatsoever on the meaning, why does anyone possibly care?”
          I think that comprehensibility is sometimes very slightly better if the infinitive is not split.

          We were taught never to split an infinitive.
          And never to start a sentence with a conjunction.
          Not to forget never to use a preposition to end a sentence with.

          Winston Churchill helped to stamp out this sort of pendantic rubbish when he wrote (so it is said) “This tedious nonsense is something up with which I will not put”.

        • Martin A
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:06 AM | Permalink

          I meant to write:

          We were taught to never split an infinitive.

        • Steven Mosher
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Permalink

          The 18th century grammarians who thought that you should not end a sentences with a preposition based their stupid prescriptivist argument on latin, where one cannot end a sentence with a preposition. However, english has linguistic roots in languages where certain verbs have separable prefixes , like auf gehoben. And in those cases, at least in german, the prefix to the verb occurs at the end of the sentence. “I wont put up with that.” “with” is really not a preposition in that sentence, its more akin to a separable prefix in the verb “up with putting” So, that is something you shouldnt put up with. Those may look like prepositions, but they are not.

          wow, now we are talking about 18th century prescriptivist grammarians.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:39 PM | Permalink

          You mean one of us is :)

          But it had to happen one day.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 5:04 PM | Permalink

          royal we of course.

      • alex verlinden
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:33 AM | Permalink | Reply

        re. “split infinitives” … from the great Thin Blue Line …

        FOWLER: Who knows what danger lurks in the fearsome watches of the night. It is our mission to seek it out.
        GOODY: To boldly go where no man has gone before.
        FOWLER: To go boldly, laddie. Don’t split your infinitives.
        GOODY: Captain Kirk does.
        FOWLER: Captain Kirk regularly accepts figures painted blue with plastic forehead extensions as beings from another planet. I think we may readily dismiss him as an authority on anything.
        :-)

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:56 AM | Permalink

          Happily it’s hard to conceive of a Star Trek fan who would appreciate the kind of minutiae discussed on this thread.

        • Mark F
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

          But “Big Bank Theory”?

        • cdquarles
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:54 AM | Permalink

          Re: Richard Drake (Mar 2 03:56), Buzzt. You lose. Here’s one :) who does.

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

          A Trekkie into minutiae? You could blow me down with a feather. :)

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Permalink

          Well, that theory seemed to have legs
          But I didn’t think it could go on
          For I can recite “Bitter Dregs
          “cdquarles” and I are Black Swans

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:40 PM | Permalink

          I would add that I’m no proper Trekker
          As I gave on them with Picard
          Too much politics, less “future speccer”
          And it seemed they were trying too hard

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • Eric Anderson
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:17 AM | Permalink | Reply

      My understanding is the split infinitive prohibition was an old holdover from high-minded folks who thought English should adhere to Latin rules (similar to the dangling preposition prohibition). Indeed many languages simply cannot split infinitives or can do so only rarely. English is wonderfully flexible in being able to nicely handle both split infinitives and prepositions that dangle and should be celebrated as such. Particularly useful in poetry.

  28. Thucydides
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Sometimes Oxford commas are useful.

    I would like to dedicate this comment to my parents, Steve Mosher and Judith Curry. ;)

    • Bad Andrew
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

      That, is very, very, very, very funny.

      Andrew

    • TAC
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:14 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Excellent! :-)

    • MJW
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Though I much prefer the Oxford comma, the ambiguity can go both ways:

      I’d like to dedicate this comment to my father, Steve Mosher, and Judith Curry.

      • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Permalink | Reply

        “I’d like to dedicate this comment to my father, Steve Mosher, and Judith Curry.”

        What’s ambiguous about that? Or are trying to imply that Steve Mosher is not your father?

        In that case, what you said is not ambiguous: it’s plain wrong, and what you should have said is something like:

        “I’d like to dedicate this comment to my father and to Steve Mosher and Judith Curry.”

        or

        “I’d like to dedicate this comment to Steve Mosher, Judith Curry, and my father.”

      • Punksta
        Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Of course it is ambiguous – it’s a weakness born of the use of Oxford commas. Which necessitates an otherwise unnecessary rewrite.

        • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 2:30 PM | Permalink

          “Of course it is ambiguous”

          O.K. I concede. To an illiterate it’s ambiguous.

        • Punksta
          Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 2:55 PM | Permalink

          You have it back-to-front. It’s only not ambiguous to the illiterate.

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Peter webster played rugby and could kick my poetry loving ass.
      Are you trying to get me hurt?

      • Thucydides
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 8:15 PM | Permalink | Reply

        No, no… Actually, I just figured you’d say something funny in response. Which you did. :) Apologies to Judith Curry and Peter Webster, who I am sure are very happily married.

  29. Anonymous Commatater
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:50 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The Oxford comma is commonly taught in the US. It is taught in elementary, middle, and high schools. ;)

    Accordingly, it cannot be used as anything more than a general diagnostic. Its presence is consistent with Glieck but is non-specific for Gleick.

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

      All these comments about punctuation make me wonder if there is a relationship between climate skepticism and extreme fastidiousness ;-)

      • Tom C
        Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:36 PM | Permalink | Reply

        I think this thread demonstrates yet again how well-read and broad minded the CA readership is, not to mention too-clever-by-half.

      • Graeme W
        Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:36 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Possible. It could all be related to an attention to detail – to making sure statements are accurate and unambiguous….

    • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Gleick’s use of the Oxford comma is consistent with his being an American, which is what he is!

  30. Robert of Ottawa
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 7:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Never use a comma before AND.

    • MJW
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:07 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Thus it is spoken?

      • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:04 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Only in Ottawa. Us We TROCians are far less dogmatic ;-)

  31. Braddles
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The Oxford comma should be used wherever phrases are involved.

    “The French flag is red, white and blue.”
    “The French flag has red, white, and blue stripes.”

    If I read Fowler’s correctly, the examples form Gleick above are correct except for the third and the fifth…

    “the more extreme AGW communicators such as Romm, Trenberth, and Hansen”
    “lies, misrepresentations, and falsehoods”

  32. Pat Frank
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Zeroing in on the Pandaean element of Steve’s post, one might describe the Gleickian event series of complaining, bungling, and, finally, glowering, as bleats, boots, and peeves.

    • jorgekafkazar
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:30 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Steve has opened a veritable Pandaora’s Box of grammatical fussbudgetry.

  33. Peter Hartley
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:11 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The head post about the Panda reminds me of a joke by an Australian female acquaintance about a Kiwi friend of hers who was a bit shy about committing to a relationship — “yeah, like all Kiwis he eats, roots and leaves”.

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:38 PM | Permalink | Reply

      There is a ruder version of the Panda joke. Instead of reciting it on this family friendly site, I’ll leave it to readers to find it.

  34. Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 8:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I was taught to use the Oxford comma when each member of the list has more than one word, but to drop it when each member is one word only. Thus, “Romm, Trenberth, and Hansen” looks wrong to me, while Gleick’s other examples do not.

    The Wikipedia article on the Oxford comma does not make this distinction, and says that the Chicago manual of style always requires it, while the AP manual always drops it.

    Encouraging teachers not to teach science strikes me as a much more convincing evidence of fraud (and of Gleick composition).

  35. j ferguson
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:10 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve,
    It is a bit strange but I remembered the joke of the title to be a girl’s lament about a particularly self-centered boyfriend. But that version would not have provided the lesson in the application of commas.

  36. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Perhaps Naomi Oreskes needs to survey climate scientists for a consensus on comma usage. After all, Gleick wouldn’t want to be labeled a grammar “denier”.

  37. theduke
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:27 PM | Permalink | Reply

    This is probably off-topic, but I’ll take the chance.

    I recommend the use of the Oxford comma and here’s why.

    Our rural development which consists of parcels over 4 acres and up to 110 acres, had reached the size (over 50 homes) where the USPS said we could convert our unsightly group of individual mailboxes at the bottom of the road into a cluster box installation at a different location inside our security gate. We found a location and wrote the absentee property owner who lived in another state that we would be installing group mail boxes in the easement on his property.

    We began construction but because of political disputes that I won’t go into, we got a call from the property owner three months after our initial notice saying he didn’t want the boxes on his property. He got a lawyer who had the post office refuse delivery until the dispute was resolved.

    We consulted a lawyer and read the easement language to him over the phone. Here’s the pertinent language:

    An easement and right of way . . . for road, sewer, water, gas, power and telephone lines, television cable and appurtenances thereto, over under and across those portions of Sections etc. .. .

    Mailboxes are appurtenances.

    The lawyer said after hearing it, that we had a slam dunk case if we wanted to sue the property owner to use the easement. But when we went to his office and showed him the language, he noticed the missing comma after “television cable” and said, we would probably win a lawsuit but it would be much more problematic. If we sued and won the case, the owner would have to pay our legal fees and vice versa.

    After a year of futile negotiations, we moved the installation (which had already been installed) to another property whose owner did not object.

    • Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:46 PM | Permalink | Reply

      The 74th largest case in the States
      A few years ago came to extinction
      Because of exactly what your tale relates
      It all hinged on that sort of distinction

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  38. James J. Hill
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 9:46 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I am on your side folks, but know what? None of this comma speculation amounts to any proof of anything whatsoever.

    • tomdesabla
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

      We are not allowed to be on any “side” here.

      Unless it be the side of truth. If these climate dudes had told the truth, and not been so sloppy and secretive, this site might not even exist.

      • tomdesabla
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Oh, and if the Canadian government hadn’t sent out that little brochure with the hockey stick that caught Steve’s attention to begin with…

  39. Anonymous Commatater
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Robert of Ottowa:

    Never use a comma before AND.

    I have considered your advice, AND I shall discard it.

  40. Frank
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:07 PM | Permalink | Reply

    All Oxford commas are wrong, but some are useful.

  41. Tom Gray
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Consider

    John, and Mary’s father walked down the street. That is two men, John and Mary’s father, walked down the street.

    In contrast with:

    John and Mary’s father walked down the street. One man, the father of both Mary and John, walked down the street.

    This is the use of commas that I was taught in elementary school in Ontario Canada in the 1950s.

    • thisisnotgoodtogo
      Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:36 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Tom Gray,
      John’s and Mary’s father walked down the street.

      • Tom Gray
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Reply

        ===============
        John’s and Mary’s father walked down the street
        ===============

        Is that describing the case of two men, John’s father and Mary’s father, or one man, the father of both Mary and John?

        • Phil R
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Permalink

          I’m no grammarian (which will probably be clear by the end of this post), but I would read it as one man (father of both). It might be a little awkward and there might be a better way to phrase it, but I would think that “John’s father and Mary’s father…” unambiguously refers to two separate people. Then again, maybe it’s not awkward. It’s only one extra word in the sentence and the number of men is clear.

        • Perry
          Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 5:24 AM | Permalink

          I think I would write, The father of John and Mary walked down the street.”

          Up with these difficulties, I shall not put.

          Up, with these difficulties I, shall not put.

          Up with, these difficulties I shall, not put.

          Up with these difficulties, shall I not put?

  42. Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 10:49 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Whichever way you like your commas
    The other way is clearly sinning
    In MS Word 07 there is
    Enforcement (check at the beginning):

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  43. Curt
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:41 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Those of you pointing out that use of the Oxford comma is quite common are missing the point. Its use in the strategy memo is “consistent with” it being written by Peter Gleick. I have learned over the past few years that in the climate field, “consistent with” is all you need to demonstrate…

  44. Bill Drissel
    Posted Mar 1, 2012 at 11:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    @ Hector
    I guess Strines wouldn’t root their Androids.

  45. MJW
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:02 AM | Permalink | Reply

    The Heartland fundraising memo uses the Oxford comma:

    Exhibiting, 12 events at $3,000 each for incremental cost (no staff or overhead),
    including travel for speakers, honoraria, and expenses.

    Exhibiting, conference sponsorship, and attendance

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:57 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Touche. :)

      • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

        I have to say
        It made me think
        As your “touché”
        Shows up as pink

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • ChE
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

      But the usage of parentheses is proper.

    • CZ
      Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 6:31 AM | Permalink | Reply

      “including travel for speakers, honoraria, and expenses.”

      Interesting! I understand that speakers might be traveling, but I haven’t seen expenses travel… (In other words, it’s no good idea to mix phrases and single words as items of an enumeration, with or without Oxford commas!)

  46. Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:37 AM | Permalink | Reply

    None of them were pedants in the strict sense of the term.

    • Roddy
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:01 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Richard, that’s a trap I will not fall into.

      • Mark F
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 8:45 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Churchill: That is a situation, up with which I shall not put.

        • tomdesabla
          Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:05 PM | Permalink

          Who let Yoda on here?

  47. Curt
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:31 AM | Permalink | Reply

    “Lies, misrepresentations, and a bible for climate change deniers”

    “lies, misrepresentations, and falsehoods”

    “those who hate science, fear science, or are afraid that if climate change is real”

    There is nothing wrong with these commas. The popular newspaper practice of dropping the comma before “and” in a series of three or more is incorrect.

    You might want to focus, instead, on Gleick’s pretentious British-English quotation mark placements. If they appear in the fake Heartland document, then they could, potentially, have some identifying value. I would also look for British-English or Canadian-English spellings, some of which (for example, a double-p in “worshipper) are easy to miss.

    And in the joke, shouldn’t the line have been: “Eats shoots and leaves” with no commas?

    • Brandon Shollenberger
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:56 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Curt, neither choice “is incorrect.” They are just two different styles. The only time you can actually say such a choice is incorrect is if it causes undue confusion, and that can almost always be fixed without changing the style of comma usage.

      Personally, I’m of the school which says, “Go with whichever works.” If you’re in an environment where only one style is accepted, you obviously go with that (because it works). If there are no restrictions on you, do whatever makes your writing clearest.

      Unless you’re aiming to create confusion. Then do the opposite.

  48. TGSG
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:26 AM | Permalink | Reply

    What a fun, and interesting thread.

  49. Another Ian
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:23 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve,

    FYI, snip if not appropriate.

    One Australian idiom translation of R & R was

    Eats roots shoots and leaves

  50. Stephen Richards
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:04 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Well, I went through ‘private’, boarding education and was taught that the ‘,’ does not come before the ‘and’. The ‘and’ is the ‘,’ .

    • Lawrence Cooper
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:17 AM | Permalink | Reply

      @ Steven Richards — maybe I went to a better school than thou as we learned to punctuate ala Strunk & White. The ‘and’ does not require omission of the comma.

      Eats, Shoots & leaves was also a very popular radio show — only the British would have a radio show on punctuation.

  51. Jerry
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:39 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I understand all the discussion about the Oxford comma. I use it myself.

    The problem is the original version you quoted “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”

    Correctly punctuated it should be “Eats Shoots and Leaves”.

    P.S. Your title has an extra comma which is doubly bad “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”

  52. Ed Fix
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 7:14 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I just consulted my own copy of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” (yes, I have one, and there is no “and” in the title–it’s an ampersand). Ms. Truss mentions the Oxford comma, opines that American standard useage is to leave it in, but really doesn’t take sides. Her most emphatic statement:

    “There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

    Who’d’a thunk a book about punctuation could be so entertaining?

    • MJW
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 7:21 PM | Permalink | Reply

      For what it’s worth, according to the rules of the Chicago Manual of Style, the Oxford comma isn’t used with an ampersand, except in legal style, when referring to three or more authors.

  53. Stacey
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 8:06 AM | Permalink | Reply

    And, now, the end is here, and, so, I face the music. :-)

    • PhilH
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

      I like that, Stacy, and, because of learning so much from this thread, will keep it in mind, as best I can, when comma wrestling.

  54. Ian L. McQueen
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 9:59 AM | Permalink | Reply

    FWIW, there is nothing wrong with putting a comma after each entry in a series. It is my practice. More precise, to my thinking/

    The title of the Truss book is a bowdlerization of an Australian joke of years ago defining a wombat: “A small furry mammal that eats(,) roots, shoots, and leaves.” The humor comes from mentally putting the comma after “eats” and the Aussie interpretation of the word “roots”, from which the word “shoots” also takes on a quite different meaning.
    I will not explain the meanings out of deference to those of delicate sensibilities.

    IanM

  55. phil
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I think global warming is a scam. But trying to prove Gleick wrote the controversial memo based on punctuation won’t hold up in court. Me thinks you guys are just having a laugh at Gleick’s expense.

    Gleick has already put himself in a lose-lose situation by saying he received the memo via snail mail–paper trails can be traced one way or another.

    In the end, I think Gleick will be forced to admit he wrote the memo. He will “resign” shortly after. He will then join WWF as a board member and your “eat, shoots and leaves” article will turn out to be strikingly prescient.

  56. Martin A
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I get the impression that followers of Climateaudit.org like things to be done correctly, whether it is punctuating a sentence or analyzing temperature records.

  57. michael hart
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I also like to use commas and quotation marks liberally, or is that “in a libertarian fashion”?
    I notice the use, or absence of, commas most frequently in newspaper headlines. They seem to get used less frequently in US publications compared with British ones.

    Also, Northamptonshire commas are far superior to their neighbouring ones from Oxfordshire.

  58. kim
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I’m getting jealous of Keith. ::grin::
    =============

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 5:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

      kim I once wrote a bot to do limericks and sonnets.

      like cummings on acid it was

  59. kim
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Reply

    The comma is the cat’s pause in his concentration.
    ===================

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 1:37 PM | Permalink | Reply

      (If your comment would dial me down
      I’ll gladly abide by your wishes)

      For Nemo, a comma clown
      It was the just the pause that reef fishes

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      • kim
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

        By all means, keep it up. Shabbas looms.
        =============

  60. Lawrence Cooper
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Maybe I wrote the memo — I use commas that way.

  61. Kevin McGrane
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Reply

    This Oxford comma is absolutely correct punctuation in British English text: if one has a list of things then one should always put a comma before the ‘and’. This is how I write, and it would be expected of educated writers on this side of the Pond at any rate, or added by copy editors. Since Gleick uses the Oxford comma then he would thereby be among the potential suspects. His use of parentheses is an idiosyncratic style issue, and seeing a similar style in the forged document narrows the field further, with Gleick still in the field. The use of the subjunctive mood with proposals is becoming more unusual ["I propose that at this point it be kept confidential and only be distributed..."], though much better than indicative, and should be checked with Gleick’s other writings. The reference in the forged document to Gleick as the exemplar of the ‘high-profile climate scientist’ is also telling. These, with lots of others, sway the balance of probabilities towards Gleick being the forger in a civil case (e.g. copyright), but not as meeting the higher standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ required for criminal cases.

  62. Lawrence Cooper
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Have any of you read the book? Placement of the comma effects the meaning of the sentence by changing the grouping. How Gleick makes his commas is actually the proper way of punctuating a series. Commas alone do not identify the author otherwise it implicates a lot of people who cling to the proper use of punctuation. Don’t make fun of that proper use (and I suggest all you bloggers actually read the book – if you have a cognitive issue, a children’s version has been published).

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Your veneer seems to fade and you’re starting to shade into jeers and criticisms
      From your Journalist link I was starting to think you were pushing skeptic schisms
      If you’d actually read what was written ahead you’d see many of us had read it
      But you’ve not read the memo! It’s a quite potent demo of “author needs an edit”
      The extreme comma use seems to rise to abuse with the odd-placed parentheticals
      And I’d encourage you to keep fully in view the real data, not hypotheticals

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  63. Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:15 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Finally….

    evets reshom has found a kid like he used to be.

    http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/02/29/health-teen-speaks-to-cbs3-about-her-ability-to-instantly-say-words-backwards/

  64. Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:17 AM | Permalink | Reply

    crap still cant spell. rehsom

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Reply

      I read it ‘right’ without noticing the transposition. Obviously spelling errors are harder to find backwards.

      erehT tsum eb a DhP in ereht erehwemos.

      • Alexej Buergin
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

        True, your spell checker does not work backwards …

        • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 3:52 PM | Permalink

          In error in in. Indeed. But what % spotted the dotted’s misplace?

        • Alexej Buergin
          Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 10:14 AM | Permalink

          Sorry, I do not understand the last sentence. Do you mean that the dot is part of the last word and should therefore be positioned at it’s beginning: ” .erehwemos “?
          Or it is part of the sentence and should be placed all the way to the left?

        • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 1:47 AM | Permalink

          A small T is crossed, the letter I was concerned with is dotted.

      • Steven Mosher
        Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:44 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Haha. in college I found one other guy who could do backwards talking waay better than I could. Needless to say it was a fun game.

        WRT to the DhP. The story on that is pretty funny. I was working on a one in literature and came across an interesting problem in critical theory. At the time ( early 80s) computers were just starting to be used in the humanities.
        I was working with George Guffy and Vinton Dearing http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/inmemoriam/vintonadamsdearing.htm

        And fell in love with programming. For a while that allowed me to connect my love of math and words.
        I found a book by chance which introduced me to Shannon and Entropy. life changer.

        http://www.archive.org/details/symbolssignalsan002575mbp

        And so I started working on a theory of novelty/creativity where one could measure non functional stylistic
        dynamism — Peckham– man’s rage for Chaos http://www.amazon.com/Mans-Rage-Chaos-Biology-Behavior/dp/0805201424

        I took a summer job at Northrop as a technical writer and fell into operations research and threat analysis and large scale simulation.

        Never went back to complete the work on style and entropy.

    • ChE
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:05 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Don’t know your own name? Age sucks, donut?

  65. MikeN
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I thought Mosher exhibited other examples of overuse of commas at Lucias. Not just an Oxford comma, but awkward pausing that was very telling.

    I’m sorry if my English is the type up with which you will not put.

  66. thisisnotgoodtogo
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Tom, I would say it means that one man, the father of both, walked down the street.
    “John’s and Mary’s father walked…”

    Making “father” plural leaves it sounding pretty odd, though. It opens up a question for the reader that probably would not be intended, and so would usually be a poor expression of meaning.

    “John’s and Mary’s fathers walked…”

    Back to your original statement:
    “Consider

    ‘John, and Mary’s father walked down the street.’ That is two men, John and Mary’s father, walked down the street.”

    I would have written this as “John, and Marys father, walked down the street.”

    I must be a Gleickard.

    • CZ
      Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 6:35 AM | Permalink | Reply

      How about “John walked down the street with Mary’s father” ?

  67. geo
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Peter Gleick would hardly be the only proponent of “Save the Serial Comma!”

    I use it myself. No, I didn’t write the memo!

  68. DocMartyn
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

    What about anti-climate or anticlimate?

    Why anti-climate and not the simple compound word, anticlimate?

    Again with high profile becoming high-profile

    It is the United Nations, not the United Nation’s.

    Why does Antony Watts get a first name but not
    Curry, Romm, Trenberth, Hansen, Gleick, Taylor, Revkin?

    Titles are odd too.

    Dr. Craig Idso is Craig Idso
    Dr. Fred Singer is Fred Singer
    Dr. Robert Carter is Robert Carter

    However, Dr. David Wojick is Dr. David Wojick or Dr.Wojick throughout.

    • ChE
      Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM | Permalink | Reply

      You’re reading that wrong. To Gleick, everything is the property of the United Nation (singular). Therefore, the singular possessive: United Nation’s.

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 4:58 PM | Permalink | Reply

      one wojick sentence was plagarized. spotted it instantly

    • Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 6:50 PM | Permalink | Reply

      The first name for Anthony Watts but not for Taylor, Gleick, Revkin, Romm, Trenberth, Hansen, and Curry might have been because the memo had multiple authors.

      The sentence about funding an Anthony Watts website to track temperature station data appears in the climate communications section but might more naturally appear at the end of the previous section about “Funding for selected individuals outside of Heartland”; after all, that funding section is about “high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist AGW message”, but the Watts funding is mentioned immediately after discussing the cultivation of “more neutral voices”.

      Maybe the Watts funding sentence was originally in the funding section but was displaced when a forger interpolated the climate communications section; interpolation would also explain why both the Watts funding sentence and the previous sentence use “also”, and why the Watts sentence used “also” even though there is not much continuation of thought between cultivating neutral voices and raising funds to track temperature station data.

      Multiple authorship seems as plausible as a single author who indiscriminately varies the placement of periods at the end of section headings, the hyphenation of “high-profile”, and the use of first names, extended parenthetical remarks, and e.g. and such as.

    • HaroldW
      Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 9:21 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Other first names are given in the fake strategy document, but in the paragraph about “Expanded Climate Communications” Anthony Watts is the only one referred to by full name. It is worth noting that the Pacific Institute has a director by the name of Watts, Professor Michael Watts of Berkeley. Someone who would have occasion to refer to both Wattses would be accustomed to disambiguating with a first name.

      • Anthony Watts
        Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Reply

        I resemble that remark!

        But seriously, that is a good point, and one I had not noted myself. However, when Heartland sent their letter to the Pacific Institute Board of Directors, I noted Michael Watts in the list, so when I published that letter, here

        http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/02/29/heartland-publishes-an-open-letter-to-directors-of-the-pacific-institute/

        I immediately added this caveat, since I live within 125 miles of Michael J. Watts:

        NOTE: Michael Watts, Geography Department, University of California, Berkeley is no relation to Anthony Watts, proprietor of this blog – Anthony

        While the makeup of the Pacific Institute board is no secret…

        http://www.pacinst.org/about_us/staff_board/board.htm

        …HaroldW’s comment does suggest that whoever wrote the memo had a mental caveat moment like I did and needed to delineate the Watts named in the fake memo.

        • Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 9:03 PM | Permalink

          No offense, but I am not sure that there is a need to differentiate yourself from geography professor Michael J. Watts when discussing which Watts the Heartland Institute is funding to create a website to track temperature station data; the Heartland Institute might fund Naomi Watts before it funds a Berkeley professor associated with the Pacific Institute.

          Moreover, the mental caveat theory doesn’t explain why Craig Idso gets a first name, unless the Pacific Institute has a Michael J. Idso on staff, too.

          The simplest rule for explaining the use of first names in the memo is that only people who get funded get first names: $100,000 to Dr. David Wojick, $11,600 per month to Craig Idso, $5,000 per month plus expenses to Fred Singer, $1,667 per month to Robert Carter, and $90,000 to Anthony Watts. But no funding is mentioned for Taylor, Gleick, Revkin, Romm, Trenberth, Hansen, or Curry.

          Restricting the use of first names to people who receive funding seems like an odd rule for one person to have, but it does not seem as odd if the person who wrote about funding has the style of always using first names, and the person who wrote about climate communications has the style of abbreviating, both in terms of using only last names and in terms of using shortcuts like WUWT and NYTimes.

        • Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 11:33 PM | Permalink

          It didn’t seem to me that he was “differentiating”, simply stating that they weren’t related, since they have the same last name and live relatively close to one another. Nothing wrong with that.

        • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 12:48 AM | Permalink

          Sorry for any ambiguity. I was not questioning Anthony Watts for his earlier caveat about Michael J. Watts; I was questioning the use of the mental caveat theory to explain the switch from last-name-only for Taylor, Gleick, Revkin, Romm, Trenberth, Hansen, and Curry to first-name-last-name for Anthony Watts, since the mental caveat theory does not explain why the memo used first names for David Wojick, Craig Idso, Fred Singer, and Robert Carter.

          The memo switched from first-name-last-name for funding to last-name-only for climate communications and then back to first-name-last-name for funding. That seems like an unusual rule for one person to have, and the mental caveat theory at best explains only the second switch. But the theory of different authors for the funding sentences and for the climate communications sentences explains all the switching.

        • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 5:45 AM | Permalink

          Now that I think of it, variation in first name use might have been because, when writing about funding, the memo author was copying from the Heartland files that contained first names; but the memo author reverted to his or her personal style of last-name-only when writing about climate communications. No need for a mental caveat theory or multiple authors. But it still seems strange that funding for Anthony Watts was mentioned in the climate communications section and not the preceding funding for individuals section.

        • HaroldW
          Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Permalink

          ljzigerell –
          I agree that there are equally plausible explanations for the presence of Anthony’s first name, of which you’ve proposed two good ones. [It could be purely accidental, of course.] Following from your last post, it’s possible that the Watts sentence was moved from the prior paragraph (“Funding for selected individuals outside of Heartland”) to which it more logically belongs, and in which full names are always used. I’m less fond of the hypothesis of multiple authors (Ockham’s razor would seem to apply), but one can extend the argument to a single author writing at different times or in different states of mind.
          .
          The suggestion I made above is more along the lines that the strategy document (or at least the Expanded Climate Communications section) contains hints that it was written hastily. While the pretexting took place over several days, and so is rather more cold-blooded, it may be that the strategy document was put together quickly without a lot of thought or revision.

        • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 1:08 AM | Permalink

          Hi HaroldW,

          I think that you are correct about not needing multiple authors to explain the memo.

          My initial suspicion was that someone had made an existing Heartland memo more sinister, in part because I was reluctant to believe that one person could be genius enough to create a sensationalized fake memo to summarize pedestrian budget data, but be unable to write two pages without a substantial number of inconsistencies and unusual phrasings.

          But I have since discovered MacArthur “genius” grant recipient Peter Gleick, who began his most recent Forbes post with the observation that:

          “The current favorite argument of those who argue that climate changes isn’t happening, or a problem, or worth dealing with, is that global warming has stopped.”

          I now realize that there is at least one genius who can use an editor.

          Getting back to Steve’s original point, perhaps the more important clue for determining the identity of the memo author is not that the memo author prefers the Oxford comma, but rather that the memo author prefers triplets such as:

          * “through our in-house experts…, our conferences, and through coordination with external networks”
          * “new scientific findings, news stories, or unfavorable blog posts”
          * “Romm, Trenberth, and Hansen”

        • Steve McIntyre
          Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 9:47 AM | Permalink

          As both Mosher and I have pointed out on multiple occasions, things like style made Gleick a person of interest, but did not “prove” that he was the forger. Mosher used the analogy of Oxford commas to being left-handed. A not uncommon trait, but one that would rule out some people.

          Let’s suppose that someone very attentive had set out to write the Confidential Memo in a Gleick style in a period of less than 10 days. It would be hard to avoid slips. “Anti-climate” is a word that someone imitating Gleick might include (but not someone imitating Bast). Oxford commas are the sort of thing that one notices after the fact, but not necessarily before. I could picture someone trying to imitate Gleick’s style but overlooking his use of Oxford commas. (I, for one, hadn’t noticed Gleick’s use of Oxford commas, prior to the present incident.)

          Gleick had means, motive and opportunity to author the forged memo. That’s the starting point for any investigation.

        • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 11:56 AM | Permalink

          “Mosher used the analogy of Oxford commas to being left-handed. A not uncommon trait, but one that would rule out some people.”

          Suuuuuuure. That’d be a great analogy if 97% of the population were left-handed.

        • Steve McIntyre
          Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 12:08 PM | Permalink

          I’m an Oxford alumnus. I never use the Oxford comma or even heard about it or thought about until the Gleick incident. It wasn’t required or noticed when I was at Oxford. That’s one of the reasons why I noticed the term “Oxford comma”.

          You say that 97% of people use this style. This seems wrong to me, but it’s not something that I’ve ever wondered about.

        • Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 2:49 PM | Permalink

          “You say that 97% of people use this style.”

          I was engaging in hyperbole. But having proofread many hundreds of technical papers by American scholars, I am confident in saying that most use a comma before the final “and” in a list.

          That the fake memo uses that particular style narrows things down a little. But only a little, since many non-Americans use the same style. Analyzing the punctuation thus seems a sterile line of investigation.

        • theduke
          Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 10:07 AM | Permalink

          I think he didn’t use the first names for Romm et al because he was impersonating Bast and wanted to show Bast depersonalizing his enemies. In other words, “the people we like get the courtesy of a first name, the people we despise do not.” Bast then, presumably, looks more petty and vindictive in the eyes of the reader.

        • Posted Mar 9, 2012 at 12:11 AM | Permalink

          Maybe. But the “first-name-for-people-we-like” theory does not explain the use of last-name-only for “our in-house expert” Taylor.

      • Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Reply

        I like that. Good find.

      • HaroldW
        Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Reply

        By the way, in re-reading the Climate Strategy document just now, I noticed that prior to the “Funding for selected individuals outside of Heartland” paragraph is one entitiled “Funding for parallel organizations”. Said paragraph lists no other organizations; it contains details of internal funding for NIPCC. There’s a vague hand-wave — “Heartland is part of a growing network of groups working the climate issues, some of which we support financially. We will seek additional partnerships in 2012.” — but no details, and certainly nothing to justify a paragraph.
        .
        I suppose that fake-doubters will consider this a clue that the document is an early draft. To me, it seems like another sign of haste.

  69. Bob K.
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 5:19 PM | Permalink | Reply

    You might try instead to look for all of the possible reasons why Gleick could not possibly have written the fake memo. It is a masterful piece of deception, so well crafted, the work of a higher and well-nuanced intellect. “Sorry, buddy, it couldn’t possibly have been you. You’re free to go.” Being convicted of wire fraud might be a lesser punishment.

  70. Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 7:10 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Maybe because I learned my English from Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Yanks, Vikings, and Turks, I don’t have much stamina for grammar pedantry. Just keep in mind that if you run into an American who says ‘complement’ when he means ‘compliment,’ he is probably an Economist.

    Regardless, no one other than a subset of wannabes refers to an inner circle as ‘subset.’ And, no one would have written a document specifically mentioning P.G. Nobody in a strategery memo. The forgery would have been less glaring by orders of magnitude if the forger had just been able to step out of his own mindset, and written something about teaching science properly instead of babbling about eliminating science.

    These people really believe that others behave according to the caricature characters manufactured for them by the team. *Sigh*

  71. ali b.
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 7:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Obviously it was Gleick who wrote the document, or Mosher.

  72. Craig Goodrich
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 7:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Now look. There is a real difference between “A, B, and C” and “A, B and C”. Gleick has in fact apparently used commas correctly in the quotes given.

    Think about:

    Human contributions to climate change include contrails, urban heat islands and other land use changes, and to a minor extent greenhouse gases.

    Anthony’s audience includes boys and girls, professors and ditchdiggers, and even some inveterate warmists.

    Gleik is clearly seriously deranged, but I find his use of commas as quoted in this post jes’ fine. The purpose of commas is to represent intonational groups in speech, which separate out elements of equal importance and syntactic function. Notice that the joke is based on the difference between

    (eats)(shoots and leaves) and
    (eats)(shoots)(leaves)

    Unless you understand the syntax of the sentence, you can’t punctuate it correctly, because the punctuation is NEVER determinable by the kind of imbecile simple rule we are nowadays exposed to in school — in either the US or the UK.

  73. stephen simpson
    Posted Mar 2, 2012 at 10:53 PM | Permalink | Reply

    If he is to appear in the next edition of Lynne Truss’s book, let it be called “Eats Humble Pie and Leaves”.

  74. dbleader61
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 1:00 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I read about Chris Moshers analysis and comparison of the Heartland Climate Strategy 2012 document to his other writings. I took from that that there was a strong case for Gleik being the creator of the document rather than the recipient.

    I guess I don’t find the fact that Gleik uses the “Oxford comma”, (the comma before the “and”) very conclusive, since I, like many Canadians (and like Stephen MacIntyre) make good use of it ad well. So I hope Mr. Mossier had a bit more than that on Gleik in his analysis.

    (Oops, I see many others have noted the Oxford comma use as well – it took too long to type this in my iPod.)

  75. dbleader61
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 1:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Oh hell. I redundantly mention the Oxford comma and then also say “Chris” Mosher rather than “Stephen”. Feel free to blow away both of my posts. :(

  76. Beta Blocker
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 1:27 AM | Permalink | Reply

    See this interpretation from fakeposters.com as to how all these commas might relate together:

    comma sutra — just when you thought you had found an exception to the rule 34

  77. Turnedoutnice
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 6:23 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Perhaps Gleick too is an endangered species?

  78. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 7:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Of course, if it has not been mentioned above, there is the irreverent Aussie version from pre-1960, where the animal eats root crops, hence Eats roots shoots and leaves.

  79. Peter S
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 7:40 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Incontinent commas? I imagine Gleick is more concerned with colon control at the moment.

  80. Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Reply

    The children in Sunday School are told how Lot was told to take his family and flee from the city. After church the inquisitive boy of the group is overheard asking,
    “What happened to the flea?”

  81. katio1505
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 7:13 PM | Permalink | Reply

    ‘Eats, roots, shoots, and leaves’

    This was a complaint by women about American soldiers visiting Australia during World War 2.

    • Geoff Sherrington
      Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 8:41 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Correct, along with ‘Over paid, over sexed and over here.’ I was taught in the 1950s from Fowler’s English Useage that the commas should not precede the ‘and’ unless its absence would cause ambiguity. However, that might have been a misuse by the teacher who read the text and I did not.

  82. John Archer
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 7:43 PM | Permalink | Reply

    ,

  83. mpaul
    Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 8:17 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Ok, there’s got to be some fun we can have with this. The joke relies on the fact that some verbs are also nouns. And the commas serve to change the nouns to verbs in the context of the sentence. Here’s some other verbs that are also nouns that are apropos to the Gleick situation: twist, cause, trick, crash, email, …

    Can anyone come up with a parallel joke to ‘Panda: eats, shoots, and leaves’ in the form of ‘Gleick: [verb} [noun] and [noun]‘ that has a cleaver alternative meaning when in the form ‘Gleick: [verb], [verb], and [verb]‘?

    • Posted Mar 3, 2012 at 10:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Gleick: impersonates, fences, and flees.

      (As everyone at HI knows, Gleick is a gifted mimic.)

    • thisisnotgoodtogo
      Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 12:15 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Gleick: Hates Tricks and Lies

      • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 1:02 AM | Permalink | Reply

        That is clever, and right in the groove.
        It fits.
        It is true.
        I approve.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

    • John Archer
      Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 8:27 AM | Permalink | Reply

      ,I’m a man with bent conviction
      but a man who doesn’t know
      how to sell a total fiction
      ‘cos my commas, blow the show

      I’m a, comma, comma, comma, comma, co,mma comedian,     ,

      • Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Reply

        Or if you’re Boy George, Comma Chameleon.

        • John Archer
          Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 12:15 PM | Permalink

          Jeff, Boy Gleick, I say. :lol:

          Hey! What about 40 Shades of Green!

          Henry Gleick: “You can have any color you want as long as it’s, green.”

          ,

  84. John Bills
    Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Reply

    http://hro001.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/manns_book_review.pdf

  85. PhilH
    Posted Mar 4, 2012 at 1:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Slightly O/T but I can’t resist it. Reading an older book by Mona Charon called, “Useful Idiots.” She has a quote at the beginning of each chapter and, near the end, I ran across this quote from, of all people, Lord Acton: “There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest of men.”

    Ok, I did put a lot of commas in there.

    Lord, are you listening to yourself?

  86. observa
    Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 6:27 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Only Mosher among you recognised the simple truth that commas are really just a collection of evil little carbon particles (and perhaps some academic oxygen too if you delve into the ‘Who we are’ menu)-
    http://www.climateworksaustralia.com/empower/

    I did chuckle reading that roll call of the usual suspects, recalling a comment elsewhere that- All charitable foundations eventually end up in the hands of academia. What gobsmacked me was how on earth Peter Gleick ever believed some academia are not more equal than others at that nowadays and why he ever went there with his Heartland feint.

  87. observa
    Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 6:50 AM | Permalink | Reply

    As for those black carbon particles emanating from our esteemed academia you almost want them to be hoisted on their own petard-
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1081815/Hate-mail-racist-Enid-Blyton-shop-owner-started-stock-golliwogs.html
    Almost… but not quite eh Gleick apologists? That will always be the gulf between us.

  88. observa
    Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 9:19 AM | Permalink | Reply

    All that was ever asked for was a fair hearing on the science alone but what did we get from the Fourth Estate but fawning, lazy regurgitations from Big Climate’s meteoric rising PR and political machinery. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether the Fourth Estate is now so impoverished and devoid of intellect, it can’t possibly do the scientific homework necessary to perform its social obligation.

    That’s not an unreasonable question to ask given the sausage factories our Sandstones have clearly become-
    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/students-will-need-more-support-unis/story-e6frfku0-1226289376791
    Overall a much tougher question for the Fourth Estate itself, but at least some in it are beginning to heed the plaintive cry to restore intellectual rigour, science and the scientific method to its rightful place-
    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/pseudoscience-harming-unis-journal/story-e6frfku0-1226288867872

    Is it all a bit late and the barbarians are too well entrenched inside the citadels of science and learning now? That’s for the Fourth Estate to answer honestly if it can, but the signs everywhere are not good-
    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/academic-toilet-paper-opens-doors-on-dunny-business/story-fn7x8me2-1226266180601

    Do your job properly and ask the hard questions without fear or favour and we’ll happily overlook the odd comma out of place.

  89. Keith Sketchley
    Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 6:19 PM | Permalink | Reply

    My practice is to think through how the reader will understand it.

    So the example here could be written
    [a panda eats shoots and leaves],
    whereas
    [a deer eats shoots, leaves, and bark] is quite clear (a multiple list, in contrast to the preceding which has only two items the critter eats]

    IMO the big problem with the “a panda eats, shoots and leaves” construction is the first comma. “shoots and leaves” is what the panda eats, we don’t put a comma in [Mary eats vegetables.], for example.

    The question of the second comma is minor compared to the first, as it does not affect meaning.

    Grammarians can talk about the elements of grammar that “eats” (verb?) is compared to “shoots and leaves”. To me it is logic for communication.
    (IMO a skilled writer will provide opportuniies for natural pauses, to help digestion.)

    • Andrew
      Posted Mar 5, 2012 at 7:56 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Well, if you think you are such a skilled writer…(digest)…I must say…You lost me with the deer analogy. I have seen many deer, most of them are never eating bark when I observe them. I have seen them eat shoots, leaves, and I know they can wreck havoc with backyard gardeners.

      So had you said “[a deer eats shoot, leaves, and my girlfriend's rosebuds]…well then it would have made way more sense. At least from my perspective. I try to avoid looking for deer in deep snow, when deer eat bark to avoid starving…but to each his own.

  90. Maxbert
    Posted Mar 12, 2012 at 4:16 AM | Permalink | Reply

    The use of the “Oxford” comma before “and,” as in “Hooray for the red, white, and blue” is not all that peculiar, even today. I myself was taught to use it, and I know many writers besides Gleick who use it too.

    You’ll find it in Fowler’s English Usage, among other guides. It can be particularly useful in applying cadence to lists. “Come to attention, turn, and salute.”

  91. thisisnotgoodtogo
    Posted Mar 17, 2012 at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Reply

    How would one punctuate this most effectively ?

    Gleick to his Better Half:
    “Alright, Honey. You are right and I am wrong as you usually are”

  92. Alexej Buergin
    Posted Mar 18, 2012 at 5:48 AM | Permalink | Reply

    A tourist to the USA is asked the following question (ESTA):

    “Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance”

    If one puts a comma after “arrested”, James Hansen, who has been arrested for demonstrating, would have to answer Yes.
    But if one puts commas around “arrested or convicted”, he would have to answer No.

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Steve McIntyre’s post discussing Peter Gleicks use of commas sent me running to The Language Log where I found Visual aid for the final serial comma: [...]

  2. By Comma Chameleon | thejiggyman on Mar 4, 2014 at 2:52 AM

    […] (from Eats, Shoots, and Leaves) […]

  3. By The Heartland memo author(s) | L.J Zigerell on Mar 30, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    […] DocMartyn asked at this Climate Audit post why the memo inconsistently mentions the first name of Anthony Watts but not the first name of Curry, Romm, Trenberth, Hansen, Gleick, Taylor, or Revkin. But, as I observed, the memo follows a simple rule for the use of first names: the memo identifies the first name of a person only if that person receives funding. […]

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