Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Invalid comparisons?

Sou | 2:46 PM Go to the first of 12 comments. Add a comment

Every now and then Anthony Watts, blogger at WUWT, takes a whack to his self esteem.  Today he was feeling down in the dumps so he took some time to reassure himself and his readers that he really is popular and has lots of visitors.  Or his blog is popular. Quantity is what raises the hit count more than quality.

Thing is Anthony was comparing his blog to climate science websites, when his blog is a mix of fantasy, nonsense, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.   (His article is archived here.)

People don't have to go to blogs to read science.  They can read it about it in popular science magazines, scientific journals and, in the case of climate science, in the IPCC reports.  Science denial, on the other hand, is mostly restricted to blogs and the occasional anti-science opinion piece in mainstream media like the Daily Mail and The Australian.  There's probably not a huge demand for specialist denialist magazines. I'm not aware of any popular anti-science magazine that has the readership of, say Scientific American or National Geographic.  Maybe that will be Anthony's next endeavour :)

Having said that people don't need to go to blogs to read science,  there are a lot of very interesting science blogs on the internet.  Way more than Anthony Watts and his band of deniers would come across. I'd guess that science blogs and their combined readership would far outweigh the number of anti-science blogs like WUWT and so would their combined readership.

Not valid comparisons

Anthony compares his blog to realclimate.org and skepticalscience.com among others.  They aren't the right comparisons.  He should be comparing his site to prisonplanet or infowars or other nonsense blogs that also engage in fantasies and disinformation.

Realclimate.org is about science and run by scientists and is aimed at and read by more educated people, including people with advanced scientific education. SkepticalScience.com is about science and is aimed at a broad cross-section of people, including but not restricted to people who have some higher education but not necessarily a science degree.  WUWT is anti-science and run by an ex-TV announcer.   It is aimed at a broad cross section of people who don't want to "believe" science.

Realclimate.org only publishes a few articles a month.  If one were to calculate Alexa ranking divided by the number of articles posted per month, realclimate.org would be orders of magnitude ahead of WUWT, even though realclimate.org is arguably aimed at a much smaller demographic (more highly educated readers).  For example, last month there were four articles at realclimate.org including an open thread (Alexa/posts = 35,603).  At WUWT there were approximately 160 articles in September (Alexa/posts = 61).  That's not to say that if realclimate.org posted more articles the visits would go up proportionately.  Maybe so, but it's more likely a law of diminishing returns would apply.

SkepticalScience.com is a dual purpose website.  It's set up as a reference resource where people go to get rebuttals to the sort of nonsense put out by denier blogs like WUWT, to get scientific information on particular topics, and to find links to scientific papers. It also publishes articles on climate topics several times a week.

WUWT is a plain vanilla blog.  It is a mix of denialist rant, protest at science, disinformation and the occasional straight republishing of a press release about a scientific paper.

Going by reported demographics, each site is probably hitting their target market.  The charts below are from Alexa.

Where are the women?

Another thing worth commenting on is the gender stats.  WUWT and realclimate.org are run by men and only publish articles written by men (I'm not aware of any exceptions).  Skepticalscience is a little bit more gender inclusive.  AFAIK it is the only one that, on occasion, posts articles written by women and the stats above suggest that readers respond in kind.

Highbrow pseudo-science

Here are some other sites that reflect a similar world view to that of many WUWT readers, but attract an audience less educated than Anthony's denier blog.  Both are more popular than WUWT according to Alexa. They specialise in conspiracy theories at a broader level than does WUWT, which mainly specialises in climate conspiracies.  The pseudo-science at WUWT is probably a bit too specialised and highbrow for some deniers :)


Before you all start to tear strips off me for quoting from Alexa stats - it's only a rough guide I know.  I don't know how close to reality the demographics are, either as comparisons between the websites or as data in its own right.

From the WUWT comments

In case you think I've been a bit harsh on poor old Anthony Watts and his readers and shouldn't have implied they are a bunch of ill-educated deluded drongos, here is a sample of comments from the same article (archived here).  Some of the comments refer to Anthony threatening, once again, to run off to the government to sue someone who said something he didn't like.  In this case it was this tweet from Michael Mann:

MarkUK says Anthony is meeting the mainstream criteria for "flawed":
October 14, 2013 at 4:58 pm
This is a genuine reply I got for posting a WUWT link:
“]What utter rubbish you continuously post. Anything from watssupwiththst is basically automatically completely flawed.”
You must be doing something right Mr Watts.

vigilantfish probably means "coal-funding" not "oil-funding" when he says:
October 14, 2013 at 5:08 pm
If there’s a lawsuit coming I’ll be absolutely delighted to funnel some government funding (via my salary) into your cause. I can’t believe that the oil-funding trope has survived this long, except that I can believe it – the MSM upholds any lie that helps the causes they believe to be justified. Thanks for all the great work you do, Anthony!

Pippen Kool says "what about Heartland?".  What's interesting in Anthony's response is what he doesn't say - eg he makes no comment on the claim of Koch/Heartland having an explicit purpose of "undermining climate research":
October 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm
“but for the record I’ve never gotten a dime from the Koch brothers”
Maybe Mann is basing his statement on your receiving funding from Heartland, and the Koch brothers funding Heartland for the explicit purpose of undermining climate research. I guess I could see how he might come to incorrect conclusions.
REPLY: Maybe, but being a scientist he’s supposed to be exacting. RE: Heartland It was a one-time project, for which I only got half funded, and then the criminal formerly known as Gleick got in the middle of it. I approached them about the idea, not the other way around, and they located an independent donor for the project. For the record (and for the umpteenth time) I don’t get any regular funding from Heartland, I never have. All that has been answered on my FAQs page for quite some time: http://wattsupwiththat.com/about-wuwt/faqs/

Willis Eschenbach has got up, dusted himself off after his recent pummelling and says:
October 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm
Anthony, thanks for your mad dedication that makes all of this possible. I have long held that everyone of importance in the world of climate science reads WUWT, if only to see what’s the latest thing that the skeptics and heretics are up to … very well done, my friend, and at an immense cost in time and tending.
With my highest regards,

dbstealey who, as a moderator knows full well that WUWT is heavily censored, tells more fibs and says:
October 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm
Better traffic than Grist! That is an amazing accomplishment.
One of many reasons I visit WUWT so often is the 3 – 10 new articles every day. I don’t know how Anthony does it. ‘Stamina’ seems like too mild a word. Maybe ‘mission’ is a more accurate explanation.
Someone had to do it — and Anthony stepped up to the plate.
WUWT has what alarmist blogs lack: the courage to allow comments from all sides to be published. Alarmist blogs lack that courage. They heavily censor skeptics’ comments, even altering the wording of posts [SkS has actually done that]. They routinely delete’ comments that refute their narrative. Who wants that?
Alarmist blogs have become thinly-trafficked echo chambers, populated by like-minded head-nodders. That is no fun. Spirited debate is where the action is! If a comment cannot stand the WUWT peer review process, everyone can see it. Eventually, only the truth is left.
OK, I’m so wound up, another donation is on the way! ☺

funkypurplemonkey says something, but it's a bit hard to follow:
October 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm
Ugh.. ANY site/.org/.gov entity and or employee and/ or person using emotive-led comments in ATTEMPTING to besmirch or feebly attempt in silencing one’s given right to reason have lost the discussion.
If hockey stick putz & his mostly emotive functioning lemmings (i.e. useful idiots) are using vitriol, as we sadly are familiar with when using their cherry picked, ‘smoothed’ data to fit their conclusion ( ‘Interesting’ how these AGW supporting ahem ‘scientists’ already formed a conclusion (?) initially and are then picking and choosing partisan data to support their ahem ‘findings’) and resorting to name calling and juvenile,devolving-like antics the modicum of discussion is over.
Mann’s a deliberately dishonest choad.

shenanigans24 is a conspiracy theorist, thinking climate science is a hoax:
October 14, 2013 at 7:19 pm
I’m sure you will be able to find Mann in 2035 on a where are they now show highlighting the superstar of the AGW hoax as he mumbles on about the thermageddon.

milodonharlani is a plain vanilla denier and says (excerpt):
October 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm
I’m sure that in Year 39 of the Pause, Mikey, if still employed, will have all new lame excuses at the ready, although with Trenberth gone, he’ll have to invent them himself.


  1. Hey, you missed the fun bit: AW looking a bit as though he might sue Mann for libel. Which brings to mind his previous posturing:


    1. See my comment about his wanting to run off to government - too subtle perhaps?

      For a "small government" ideologue who hates the "nanny state" Anthony sure spends a lot of time running off crying to Mommy (the Judicial arm of government) whenever his feelings get hurt!

  2. Using Alexa for comparisons between sites will give you incorrect data and incorrect answers. It's not reliable as it's not based on direct measurements of traffic. It's something I already tried to explain to Watts.

    Another detail is that the rise in Alexa rank doesn't match the data from direct measurements of his blog that are publicly available. This is the strongest hint that this is not a real trend. At best this might be an artefact of some variability in his traffic.

    1. "At best this might be an artefact of some variability in his traffic."

      wasn't he pushing his readers to install the Alexa tracker at the time of all the growth?

    2. Yes, the Alexa WUWT spybar is the most likely explanation the fake peak seen in the WUWT Alexa traffic statistics.

    3. Visitors to his website having the Alexa toolbar installed is probably one of the biggest reasons his statistics are overestimated by Alexa.

    4. This! You can darn well be almost certain that the majority of the WUWT commentariat have the Alexa toolbar installed (because their fearless authoritarian leader told them to), which artificially boosts the Alexa ranking of WUWT by a huge margin. Of course, Anthony conveniently forgets this when using the Alexa rankings to prop up his equally artificially inflated ego :-)

  3. "the criminal formerly known as Gleick"

    *formerly* known? muh wuh?

    (i also love how Watts complains about Mann's nasty words, then goes and calls Gleick a criminal.)

    1. Anthony is such a sook.

      He is great at dishing it out and arguably libeling others. Over the years he has made all sorts of false accusations and hurled venom against individual scientists, including Prof Mann, and allows his readers to do the same on his blog. Anthony is master of ad hom, failure at science.

  4. Even though it's been demonstrated that a goodly portion of the WUWT commentariat are prone to buying into conspiracy theories (i.e. the whole global warming is a hoax proposition, climate scientists are only in it for the money, new world order, et. al.), it always amazed me that so many of them could fall for the lie from Joe Bast that Gleick faked the Heartland strategy memo. What possible motive could he have had? He already had all the inside info destined for board members that proved what Heartland was up to for the upcoming fiscal year.

    And wasn't it the fact that someone anonymously sent him the strategy memo that gave him the idea of impersonating a board member anyway, to see what else he could find out? Revision of history/facts seem to be something these 8% dismissives are pretty good at, and logic is definitely not their strong suit. Sheesh.


    1. Of course the document wasn't faked.

      I'm still waiting for whoever it was who set up Peter Gleick to own up to the fact. Perhaps the person who sent Peter the Heartland documents will never admit to it, or maybe it will come out one of these days. Whatever - they did the world a favour, although I don't know that they did Peter a favour.

    2. Yeah, had to be a Heartland insider. Question is, how high up? Was it a trap, or was the anonymous donor of the docs actually trying to do a whistle-blowing act? And... suppose Gleick had only released to journalists what had been originally sent to him, without doing the board member impersonation schtick.

      All questions that are likely to never be answered (except for the last one, which is a bit of speculation).


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