Watts Up With 97 Hours Of Consensus

The so-called sceptics like Anthony Watts often have some very interesting predictions and speculations about global warming and climate change. Especially the predictions they make when dealing with their opponents can get very strange. The latest example of this was when Anthony Watts noticed a new widget on the Skeptical Science website.

Not much information was present what this widget was about. It had some sort of outline in it and a countdown, but what it was counting down to wasn’t obvious at the time. When you clicked on the widget it directed you to a page full of silhouettes.

widget crowd

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Watts Up With Nitrogen Science Denial

Anthony WattsThose that are familiar with the website Watts Up With That know that some very strange content has shown up on it. A lot of it focusses on trying to discredit valid research on climate change and global warming, but in general it is also very dismissive about environmental concerns. Basically anything that can be used to cast doubt will get published, no matter how wrong or far-fetched it is.

This time Watts went after nitrogen pollution, something that is a real concern and can have serious consequences. Fertilizers contain nitrogen as it is a nutrient plants need to grow properly. But this isn’t the same nitrogen as we breathe, plants can’t absorb nitrogen gas. That’s why the nitrogen in fertilizers often is part of a compound, most commonly as NH3 or NO3. This what distinguishes nitrogen in fertilizers from the nitrogen in the air (which has the chemical formula of N2).

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The Genuine Sceptic View

I get the occasional email asking me to help out with something. This time it was an email from Mike Haseler who is the chairman of the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum. The name of this organisation sounded interesting to me considering the subjects I tackle. I got even more interested when it was mentioned that this was to gather some information about the public debate about climate change.

But I always do a background check on the party that’s asking me to help out with something, no matter how small the request is or the amount of effort required on my side. Who you affiliate yourself with does matter if you want to be taken seriously. When I did a cursory check of the contents on their website any good feelings I might have had about this organisation evaporated.

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Prince Charles And The Headless Chicken Brigade

Prince CharlesNormally I’m not the type to defend Prince Charles thanks to him having some questionable views on science. For example his staunch support of homoeopathy as a viable medical treatment. Telling anyone that homoeopathy works is extremely dangerous and he’s been justly criticised for lobbying for it.

However, I have no trouble commending someone when they do get it right. One example being his recent statements about climate science deniers:

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This Is Why You Shouldn’t Use Alexa

alexa logoThat Alexa isn’t good at giving reliable statistics is well known in IT. Any website like Alexa that tries to estimate traffic to a website in a similar way via indirect measurements will encounter the same issues it has. Those that work in IT often know what those issues are and know what the consequences are for the data that’s gathered via those methods.

The main issue that Alexa has is that it gathers the data it uses via users that installed the Alexa toolbar (or a toolbar that passes information to Alexa). This has as a result that demographic, used browsers, and even the country visitors are from influence the statistics that Alexa gathers about a website. This can introduce serious artefacts and biases into the collected data and basically makes Alexa data worthless. At best it can give you an idea about how well a website is doing, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re seeing matches reality. I’ve already written a far more detailed blog post about how Alexa works and why you never should rely on the data it provides; it’s just too unreliable.

The blog post that I wrote about Alexa were all sparked by Anthony Watts using Alexa data to claim he’s doing better than his competition. His website is certainly big and it could very well be the case that he is outperforming his competitors. But Alexa is not the tool that you can use for determining if you are doing better than your competitor.

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Anthony Watts: “When You Resort To Name Calling, You’ve Lost The Argument”

Anthony WattsIt’s not often that I fully agree with something that Anthony Watts says, but sometimes it does happen. This time it’s about how you approach those that you are critical about.

One of the things people notice about me is that I focus on the arguments that someone presents and not the person; also known as playing the ball not the man. Of course I’m not perfect but I do make an effort to stay civil in what I write and I expect the same from visitors on my website who leave a comment.

Experience has taught me that not being civil almost always derails any rational exchanges. It can easily result in polarizing both sides more, and can have real negative consequences for readers of your website accepting valid science. When communicating science language matters more than you think.

That’s why I fully agree with Watts saying “when you resort to name calling, you’ve lost the argument” (archived here):

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Watts Up With Global Warming And Atomic Bombs

sks-widgetAnyone familiar with Watts Up With That will have noticed that anything published on it that mentions Skeptical Science often displays a rather obvious dislike for Skeptical Science. Both for the Skeptical Science website and the people who are involved with it.

It shows with the language used and all the attacks on the materials created or used by Skeptical Science. Often it doesn’t really matter if it’s valid criticism as long as it in some way critiques or undermines what was released. Especially when it’s something that is easy to understand and helps with communicating the science behind global warming. Which showed with the attacks towards the Cook et al. paper that measured the scientific consensus on global warming in the scientific literature.

This time Watts isn’t happy because of a widget Skeptical Science released that puts into context how much heat our planet is absorbing:

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The 97% Climate Science Consensus Reality

97_piechart_smallSeveral months ago Cook et al. released a paper in which they analysed the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

What they did in that study is examine 11,944 abstracts from 1991 to 2011 that included the words “global climate change” or “global warming” in their abstract. What they found after analysing these abstracts is that among those that expressed a position on global warming, 97% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.

Not a surprising result at all as this was a bigger literature survey than the one done by Oreskes in 2004. It found that all the selected abstracts (928 in total) that stated a position on the cause of global warming said humanity is to blame.

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Watts Up With Conspiracy Ideation

Anthony WattsThe website Watts Up With That run by Anthony Watts always was a website that uses conspiracy theories to support their argument that global warming isn’t a cause for concern. They try to keep what they publish on the website somewhat scientific, but that’s just a thin layer. That they are a conspiracy theory website sometimes becomes very obvious.

Their take on the loss of Cuccinelli in the Virginia elections is a good example of this. The title of their blog post ‘The big green machine: McAuliffe, Mann, and Megadollars‘ (archived here) alone hints at what is to come:

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Watts Up With Alexa Statistics

alexa logoAnthony Watts is very fond of using Alexa statistics for showing how popular his blog is. Especially when he can use it to show that his blog is more popular than websites that spread good information on climate science.

But the problem is that Alexa uses indirect measurements to give an estimate for how much a website is visited. This makes Alexa traffic statistics basically worthless if you’re trying to do any serious analysis of visitor numbers to websites. You just don’t use it as you will almost always get something that isn’t remotely close to reality (although some businesses do use this data).

Watts should know this considering how often it was pointed out to him that Alexa isn’t reliable. Something I also wrote about in my blog post ‘Why You Shouldn’t Use Alexa Traffic Statistics‘. Yet it doesn’t stop Watts from using it to boast about his website in his blog post ‘The other divergence problem – climate communications‘ (archived here):

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