Tuesday, September 10, 2013

WUWT is the biggest blog in the anti-science echo chamber and proud of it

Sou | 7:55 AM Go to the first of 9 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts has found something to boast about (archived here, latest is here).  It's a working paper by Amelia Sharman for the Grantham Institute called:  Mapping the climate sceptical blogosphere

Sharman has described Anthony's anti-science blog, wattsupwiththat (WUWT) as occupying "the most central positions in the climate sceptical blogosphere" with an estimated 140,000 visitors and more than 2 million page views a month.  That is indeed impressive and why it needs countering.

Setting the scene - the 97% scientific consensus

Anthony doesn't much like the opening sentence of the Introduction, saying "There is only one little fatal mistake IMHO on sentence one of the paper". The opening sentence refers to the 97% scientific consensus:
Evidence supporting the reality of climate change and its anthropogenic cause is overwhelming in the peer-reviewed literature (J. Cook et al. 2013; Doran and Zimmerman 2009).

Critiquing mainstream science or mocking mainstream science?

Sharman writes in one part:
The expertise that appears to be the most valued in this alternative knowledge network—command of scientific knowledge and willingness to use it to critique mainstream climate science—is thus also different to that valued in other networks of alternative knowledge.
Indeed. Either Sharman either isn't aware of the dearth of scientific knowledge on fake sceptic blogs or is pointing out that those who flock to those blogs are unaware of it.  In the abstract she refers to "alternative networks of scientific knowledge production" - which suggests she actually thinks that fake sceptics are adding knowledge, when in fact they ridicule it illiterati-style.  They are in the disinformation business not the knowledge business.  However elsewhere in her paper there are indications that she may have an inkling of their purpose.  It could be that her term "alternative knowledge" is a euphemism for "unadulterated bunk". Here are some examples of the "command of scientific knowledge" or "alternative knowledge" or "unadulterated bunk" typical of WUWT.

As Sharman notices, without mainstream science WUWT would have nothing to mock at all, and we'd not have David "funny sunny" Archibald or Ronald D "OMG it's insects" Voisin or the potty peer Monckton:
Interestingly however, and in opposition to the Cumbrian sheep farmers in Wynne’s classic investigation of expertise, these bloggers do not appear to recognise their ‘dependency upon the scientific experts as the certified public authorities on the issue’ (1992: 299). 

Interpreters for the interpreters of interpretations

Why do anti-science blogs exist?  The authors put forward a couple of ideas, for example as "reinterpreters" of science (feeding other science deniers √† la James Delingpole with his self-description as an "interpreter of interpretations"):
It is possible that these central blogs in particular are not only acting as translators between scientific research and lay audiences, but, in their reinterpretation of existing climate science knowledge claims, are filling a void by opening up climate science to those who may have been previously unengaged by the mainstream knowledge process and, importantly, acting themselves as alternative public sites of expertise for a climate sceptical audience. 

Attempting to destabilise science and/or echo chambers of worldviews (and/or fodder for the illiterati)

And why do anti-science blogs like WUWT reinterpret science? Is it to destabilise mainstream science?
Several reasons may explain why scientifically-based challenges to, or reinterpretations of, climate science by mainstream climate science outsiders are valued within the climate sceptical blogosphere. Those whose scepticism is entirely scientifically-motivated may regard these blogs as sites of more accurate or trustworthy knowledge than exists in mainstream climate science, or indeed is available either as readily or in as detailed a format as in other sources such as the mainstream media (Boykoff 2013). This rationale would suggest that the ‘relevant resource’ that Brass (1984: 520) identifies as critical as to why certain nodes become more powerful than others in a network is, in this instance, command of scientific knowledge, in particular, knowledge that attempts to destabilise mainstream science.

Again the strange language.  Fake sceptics like those on WUWT and other denier blogs have little if any "command of scientific knowledge".  However the fact that she talks about their purpose being to destabilise mainstream science suggests Sharman may be aware of this.  It's curious the way she presents her ideas.

Another reason put forward by Sharman is that they exist to provide an echo chamber reflecting the worldview and ideology of their readers.  There is more than ample evidence supporting this hypothesis.
Another possible reason is that these blogs are providing a basis upon which scepticism motivated by underlying worldviews or ideological values (such as disagreement for the need for government intervention) can be scientifically justified (G. Cook et al. 2004). It is possible that this contributes to a situation whereby these blogs serve as an “echo chamber”, within which users are ‘consuming news that mesh with their worldview and ideology’ (Boykoff 2013: 15), thus contributing to Hoffman’s (2011a) concept of a logic schism within the climate debate.

I'll add my own hypothesis - anti-science blogs exist to sustain the illiterati and echo their creed that all knowledge is valueless and the only thing of value is ignorance.  Perhaps this is a sub-group of the "worldview" club reason.

Judith Curry "officially" joins the ranks of "sceptics"

I see that Judith Curry's blog rates a mention.  Hers is considered a "category 2" "skeptical" blog - in the same bag as Stephen McIntyre's blog.  I don't think Judith will complain about being tagged as a "skeptical blog" despite the definition for inclusion being one or more of "trend, attribution or impact climate scepticism", described as:

  • trend sceptics are ‘those who say global temperatures are not warming’
  • attribution sceptics are ‘those who say they are warming, but argue that the anthropogenic contribution to global warming or climate change is over-stated, negligible, or non-existent compared to other factors like natural variations or sun spots’ 
  • impact sceptics are ‘those who accept it is happening but for different reasons question its impacts or the need to do something about it’.
Roy Spencer's blog is included as a category 1 blog (which might or might not please him).  IMO Spencer's blog along with those of Judith Curry and Anthony Watts fits all three categories - sometimes all at the same time!

Here is how the paper further categorised the blogs:
... a categorisation system became a necessary addition in order to distinguish between types of blogs, as there was a marked difference in language employed. Two categories were developed: openly sceptical (category 1) and self-proclaimed “open-minded” (category 2). For example, compare the following excerpts in Table 1 from Climate etc., a category 2 blog authored by Judith Curry (Georgia Institute of Technology) and GORE LIED, a category 1 blog authored under the pseudonym “The Editor”, based in Oregon, USA. In the GORE LIED excerpts, the phrase ‘the foundation for anthropogenic global warming is fraudulent’ and the suggestion of climate scientists and policy-makers personally profiting from the existence of climate change clearly identifies it as a category 1 blog. Conversely, in the Climate etc. excerpt, the discussion of the need for greater causal investigation into the scientific factors behind the physical manifestation of climate change is markedly different in tone, hence its classification as a category 2 blog.
The difference is simply one of "tone".  Anthony Watts' blog is in category 1 along with GORE LIED - the blog that says mainstream science is a fraud.  That pretty well sums up WUWT.

Curry's blog, with it's constant bleating about "uncertainty" and "don't act yet until every tiny bit of science is 100% certain", is a category 2.  I'd argue it's been shifting towards category 1 for some time now.

From the WUWT comments

I think I've found out whether or not Roy Spencer is happy with being included as a category 1 "sceptic", he says (comments and the blog article are archived here - latest update here):
September 9, 2013 at 12:29 pm
Apparently, you can get a PhD these days just for using a bunch of multi-syllable words.

Theo Goodwin is ignorance personified and oblivious to WUWT's "dependency upon the scientific experts". He seems to think that WUWT invented climate science and erroneously says, unaware of the irony in his "ironic" comment:
September 9, 2013 at 1:16 pm
WUWT does the heavy lifting in criticism of climate science. Alarmists are now talking about natural regularities and natural variability. That is new talk for them and it came directly from WUWT. Alarmists are talking about ENSO and the AMO. That came from Bob Tisdale and others at WUWT. In the near future, the Alarmists that remain will be talking about Willis’ cloud hypotheses. At this time, talk about actual physical hypotheses begging for empirical investigation is a bridge too far.
It is ironic that WUWT is the leader in criticism of climate science. In the natural order of things, the most severe critics of a science are supposed to be those who created the science. In the natural order, Gavin Schmidt’s blog should offer the most severe criticism of climate science.

John Mason is not sure about all this attention and says (excerpt):
September 9, 2013 at 1:29 pm
On the one hand it’s interesting to see the number of studies trying to understand the skeptical mind. On the other hand it’s disturbing to see the base assumptions being made that make these authors believe skeptics need to be studied rather than any possible consideration that the supposed consensus is flawed.

kwinterkorn thinks the paper is complimentary towards WUWT and says:
September 9, 2013 at 1:33 pm
I think Sharman’s work is complimentary to WUWT, perhaps inadvertently or perhaps because her exposure to WUWT made her a closet “skeptic”. After all, her statement is that WUWT is focused on the science of climate and is this not true? I admire WUWT because of its principled focus on scientific method, climate theory, the limitations of our current knowledge of climate-related facts (eg How accurately do we measure temperature in the real world of climate science?), and the difference between real science and “post-normal science” (which is not really science, but politics). Everyone who is not a “post normal” scientist knows that good science is skeptical.
Given the comment on post-normal science, I wonder how kwinterkorn views this understated observation in Sharman's paper:
Ravetz (2012) even goes so far as to argue that the blogosphere has actualised post-normal science, with debates about quality—particularly quality related to scientific work—a central tenet of the climate sceptical blogosphere. The freely accessible nature of blogs is also notable, as while there is a movement in academia towards open-access journal publication (Chan 2004), it is not yet the norm. This is significant as blogs are an increasingly common source of scientific source material for mainstream media (Brumfiel 2009) and the climate sceptical arguments emphasised in these central blogs may receive a disproportionately larger audience than is perhaps warranted when compared with the knowledge claims made by the majority of mainstream climate science (Boykoff 2013). 

Reg Nelson says the author isn't aware of the multitude of scientists' blogs and I can't say I disagree. I don't agree that NASA's website is a blog, and John Cook researches science communication AFAIK. Neither does she mention the pro-science blogs by people who aren't themselves climate scientists.  But then they weren't the subject of her research.
September 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm
because even though few climate scientists themselves blog
She obviously didn’t research this paper very well. Gavin has a blog. Cook (who she cited) has blog. GISS & NOAA use websites to push there agenda, and Mann uses Twitter to disseminate his propaganda. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Annie provides evidence of HotWhopper's 'WUWT exists for the illiterati' hypothesis and says:
September 9, 2013 at 1:47 pm
I couldn’t believe the amount of gobbledegook but managed to get some idea of what she was trying to say eventually….I think. Are people awarded degrees and doctorates for this sort of thing?

Steve C provides evidence supporting Sharman's 'worldview echo chamber' hypothesis and says:
September 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm
Why do climate sceptical blogs exist? Because there are still too many scientifically literate people out here who can quickly recognise the sort of pseudoscientific tosh pumped out by the blatherskites promoted as “climate scientists”, and who want to see real science restored to its pedestal. And, btw, who will fight every attempt by the political class to turn real science into some sort of fluffy feelgood rubbish like the social “sciences”, for ever and ever, amen.

David Ball is not just ignorant of science, he is ignorant of the very strict censorship on WUWT, ultimately banning everyone who dares to put forward ideas from mainstream science on the pretext that they violated some unwritten "policy" or other and says:
September 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm
WUWT? engages in something unfamiliar to many other blogs, particularly pro-AGW blogs. Freedom of speech. What patrons have to bear in mind, is that although you are allowed to speak freely, you must also be accurate and be prepared to defend that which you post. Perhaps this idea is lost on Amelia Sharman.


  1. Seems there are only two category 2 blogs: Clamte etc and CLimate Audit. The rest are all category 1.

    Of course, the centrality of WUWT in this network only proves what a pile of dung the whole "climate sceptics" movement is.

    1. The study gives these total numbers: In total, 171 blogs were identified, 155 of which are allocated to category 1 (openly sceptical) with the remaining 15 identified as category 2 (self-proclaimed “open-minded”).

  2. One gets the impression that Sharman doesn't really know very much about Earth System science:

    These blogs predominantly focus on the scientific element of the climate debate, providing either a direct scientifically-based challenge to mainstream climate science, or a critique of the conduct of the climate science system, and appear to be less preoccupied with other types of scepticism that are prevalent in the wider public debate such as ideologically or values-motivated scepticism.

    I don't believe that anyone with moderate or better topic knowledge could have written the above with a straight face.

    a direct scientifically-based challenge to mainstream climate science


    When? Where?

    1. BBD - Let alone "less preoccupied with other types of scepticism ...such as ideologically or values-motivated scepticism".

      She can't have spent much time at WUWT or other anti-science blogs. Their so-called "science" is a very thin facade.

      It's a strange paper in some ways.

    2. Sharman is examining the blog network, and not the veracity of their arguments. I think that in such a study, one is supposed to be neutral relative to the opinions and arguments. It is a matter of objectives and methodology.

    3. That's pretty much how I read it too, Lars.

      Even so, attributing "science" to WUWT and other denier blogs is hardly neutral. She could have at least used quotation marks.

      Nor is overlooking the values and ideological stances that abound on those sites.

      I do think it's quaint that Judith Curry is lumped in with the unskilled Auditor:)

    4. Yes, I think she should have put some kind of disclaimer.

  3. From the study: “Science” included all scientifically-related points, including any argument that referenced scientific data or methods, scientific theories or the role and activities of scientific institutions. No distinction was made between what has been suggested as being ‘scientifically legitimate’ (Freudenburg and Muselli 2010: 483) arguments as opposed to ‘non-science and pseudoscience’ (Cormick 2011). “Policy” included all discussions that emphasised the politics of, or policy decisions related to, climate change, such as the political appropriateness of mitigation or adaptation policies. (my emphasis)

    Thus I guess we should not freak out too much that WUWT is called a science blog. Anyway social scientists seem to have difficulty distinguishing science from non-science.

  4. Were you hanging your hat on Sharman producing something useful for your views, Murph? Grasping at a sociology paper? You guys usually dogmatically hold sociology in even higher contempt than scary science, don't you? Making an exception now?

    Post some examples of 'disagreeable' science papers. Caveat: they need to be peer-reviewed, by credentialed workers, and published in a high-impact journal. IOW, no mickey-mouse stuff. There you go after you've finished with Oz, you can watch Disney, that's your speed.


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