Saturday, December 21, 2013

Science at Reddit to its credit - and moans from the illiterati at WUWT

Sou | 6:02 PM Go to the first of 3 comments. Add a comment

A year or so back, Reddit science forum imposed stricter moderation of comments, particularly of fact-free rants from climate science deniers.  There's an article by one of the moderators, Nathan Allen, on Grist, explaining the decision and what happened (and didn't happen) as a result.

Everyone knows that only a small percentage of the population rejects climate science but those who do make a big song and dance about it.  That's what Nathan Allen found, too.

The Reddit science forum is described as "a small part of reddit, but it nonetheless enjoys over 4 million subscribers [Sou: 4.5 million currently]. By comparison, that’s roughly twice the circulation of The New York Times."

As most HotWhopper readers would probably know, reddit.com is very popular.  It's in the top 100 most popular sites on the internet.  Some sections are wild, others are more informative. About a year ago the moderators at  /r/science decided to more strictly control discussion and not allow the "bitter and biased" comments that sites like WUWT foster and fester.  Nathan Allen wrote at Grist:
We discovered that the disruptive faction that bombarded climate change posts was actually substantially smaller than it had seemed. Just a small handful of people ran all of the most offensive accounts. What looked like a substantial group of objective skeptics to the outside observer was actually just a few bitter and biased posters with more opinions then evidence.
Negating the ability of this misguided group to post to the forum quickly resulted in a change in the culture within the comments. Where once there were personal insults and bitter accusations, there is now discussion of the relevant aspects of the research. Instead of (almost comically) paranoid and delusional conspiracy theories, we have knowledgeable users explaining complicated concepts to non-scientists who are simply interested in understanding the research. While we won’t claim /r/science is perfect, users seem happy with the changes made.

Offsetting the outsized influence 

Nathan Allen wrote about the outsized influence of climate science deniers, out of all proportion to their numbers, not to mention their knowledge:
Like our commenters, professional climate change deniers have an outsized influence in the media and the public. And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality. As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral.

This supports what I've noticed at WUWT.  The most vocal and stupidest comments there come from a relatively small number of people.  It's true that WUWT has a large readership for a niche climate disinformation blog, however the core commenters make up only a small proportion of its readership.  You may recall that WUWT caters only for the scientific illiterati, with more than 97% of its readers rejecting science.  So at most, they represent the views of only 8-10% of the population.  When you think that only about half the population of most democracies would be classed as politically conservative and a much smaller percentage as far to the right as most of the WUWT crowd, it puts the 8% Dismissives who live in the denialist fishbowl into perspective.

Anthony Watts sympathises with Reddit for the opposite reason

Anthony bignotes himself and tells fibs when he writes (archived here):
I can understand the situation, running the most viewed climate related blog, where I’ve noted that a small minority of people can cause a lot of trouble and waste a lot of time. Those people often go astray of the site policy for WUWT, and sometimes find themselves banned for repeated bad behavior. Those that might have contentious views but aren’t intractable zealots learn to work within policy and stick around, and contribute to debate here. That said, a “blanket ban” just wouldn’t work nor would it be sensible. Imagine if a single WUWT moderator decided to make a blanket policy change here. -Anthony

Anthony Watts' blog is popular but it's not the "most viewed climate related blog".  (Think ClimateProgress and Jeff Masters' blog at wunderground.com for examples. And I wouldn't mind betting that every article at realclimate.org and probably at skepticalscience.com gets read by many more people than any single article at WUWT.  The thing is that Anthony Watts puts up three or four articles a day so his regulars will keep up his hit count. Quantity vs quality - quality wins hands down every time.) WUWT only survives because it provides a home for people who reject climate science and who are encouraged to say what they like at WUWT, as long as it's anti-science.

Anthony's definition of "trouble" is any disputation of the pseudo-science that his disinformation blog is known for.  Science-lovers at WUWT are treated like minorities the world over.  They are tolerated only if they toe the anti-science line. If they don't respond to criticism and make only bland comments they can stay for a bit.  However, if they even once bite back when personally attacked by the swarm of nutters (the WUWT majority), they will be banned.  (As an example of how little it takes to be banned from WUWT, I was banned from WUWT for a tweet, not a comment at WUWT.  I rarely commented at WUWT but even my very rare comments drew the ire of the proprietor and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome.  I was never as rude as the regulars.)

From the WUWT comments

To illustrate how the WUWT-ers live in their own little bubble of science denial, here are some of the responses to the article about the Reddit science forum.  There are a few complaints along the same lines as as you'd read at HotCopper about "free speech" but not all that many.  Maybe some WUWT-ers recognise that "free speech" conflicts with WUWT policy (not likely).  (Archived here.)

E L Frederick says:
December 20, 2013 at 11:21 am
Does anyone take Reddit seriously anyway?

Onion is trying to imitate his or her namesake and says:
December 20, 2013 at 11:30 am
The difference between wuwt and reddit here is that the reddit moderator is relying on the 97% consensus as a rationale for banning ‘deniers’. Yet we know that 97% was based on lies and misleading statistics as wells as shoddy methodology.
If the moderator is incapable of seeing the 97% consensus for the myth that it is, he is surely not fit to determine if sceptic arguments follow from peer-reviewed research. His call for newspapers to close down ‘denier’ comments where the latter have no such rules on arguments needing to be backed by peer-reviewed research, is chilling.

M Simon is one of many WUWT-ers who says:
December 20, 2013 at 11:34 am
What is Reddit?

Janice Moore thinks it's all just simply marvellous and will result in a lot more deniers flocking to WUWT.  I'm surprised she didn't praise her lord with allelluias:
December 20, 2013 at 11:35 am
This is, as I said a couple of days ago, the loveliest Christmas gift Red It could have given to us. “Why are they banned…. ?” will get FAR more people to read WUWT and other science truth sites than would otherwise have but for the ban.
Heh, heh, heh. So, A-th-y, how much did you have to pay the guy to do that… (JUST KIDDING).
Thank you, Red It!

john robertson does what deniers do when it comes to any site they disagree with, tries to downplay its popularity and says:
December 20, 2013 at 11:38 am
Are you sure this is not a publicity ploy by another, dead in the water, website?
After all I am pretty sure when you mention the likes of SS, Real Climate and such like, their site visits spike enormously.
Reddit? Never been there.

John's wrong.  Most WUWT-ers don't venture from the safety of WUWT.  HotWhopper gets as many visitors from a mention by CitizensChallenge as it does when Anthony mentions HotWhopper or Sou in one of his blog articles or comments, which usually results in only a dozen or so hits.  (I get many more visits when HotWhopper gets mentioned on reddit. As for BadAstronomy at Slate - even a buried link among dozens bring thousands of visitors to HotWhopper.)

leon0112 doesn't have a clue about the reach of reddit, and an over-inflated view of WUWT and says:
December 20, 2013 at 11:39 am
I wonder if Reddit science has 169 million views.

Jeff in Calgary informs WUWT readers about reddit, though as far as /r/science goes he misjudges the age group and says:
December 20, 2013 at 11:49 am
FYI, Reddit is very popular with 20-30 yearold crowd. It is ranked 80th most popular web site in the world by Alexa (vs. WUWT at about 25,000th). So while you may not have heard of it, it is in fact a big deal.

Mike Jonas doesn't seem to know that Anthony soon bans any stray science commenters on one pretext or other and says:
December 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm
I would like to put in a word for the commenters on WUWT who support the mainstream position in a sensible way. There aren’t many, and they often get given a tough time (which may be why there aren’t many), but they help to test the arguments put forward and to keep everyone else honest. I congratulate Anthony for determinedly keeping WUWT open to all views. It is very much the better for it.

Joseph Murphy didn't twig to the fact that the policy has been in place for a year already and, oblivious to the fact that all WUWT is for is to "sit around and talk with people who agree with you", says (excerpt - quote removed):
December 20, 2013 at 12:14 pm
Beat me to it! I predict this new policy won’t last long with Reddit. It does go against what they are all about. If it does stand it will not be good for Reddit. I don’t mean that in any deep way, just that how long can you sit around and talk with people who agree with you?

Brian R believes that "rude, uninformed, and outspoken opinions" are simply "friendly thought" and says:
December 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm
I don’t know what the problem is. Reddit is doing exactly what they say they sould. They are challenging the genre that Reddit is a place for friendly thought.

Steven Mosher shows the nasty anti-scientist streak he's known for and, true to his past form, urges WUWT-ers to spam reddit.  (This nastiness Steven often shows towards scientists comes across as jealousy.) Also he obviously didn't read the bit in the Grist article about "deniers were frequently insulted and accused of being paid to comment" and says:
December 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm
folks need to get more creative.
thread bomb him with idiotic pro AGW comments.
post horrible lies about dellingpole. they wont delete those
mess with the upvoting and down voting.
since your readership dwarfs reddit, make them pay.

Tom in Florida at least recognises WUWT for what it is, but gives it too much credit. As if someone like Nathan Allen would be welcome at WUWT.
December 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm
““These people were true believers, blind to the fact that their arguments were hopelessly flawed, the result of cherry-picked data and conspiratorial thinking,” Allen said in his article, which is posted on Grist.org. “They had no idea that the smart-sounding talking points from their preferred climate blog were, even to a casual climate science observer, plainly wrong.””
I would guess this statement is directed at this blog. Of course, I do not believe we have ever had the pleasure of Nathan Allen gracing us with his scientific expertise, unless of course he is hiding behind an alias.

Paul Westhaver is quite comfy in his little denialist fishbowl, thank you very much, and says:
December 20, 2013 at 12:27 pm
It is useful to the cause of real scientific inquiry that an apparent rag web site like reddeit (I have never visited their site) would self filter itself to the fringes of credibility by inviting only contributors who agree with them. Self-filtering extremists like at reddit self-identify as incredible activists and thereby doom their small readership to bad science mutual masturbators. Yes they make each other feel good don’t they, but they are impotent and sterile.
As for WUWT, the most popular science blog, where dialogue is open and challenging, the cause for science will prosper in the fertile interactive debate.
Reddit is a shallow empty box where global warming activists can sneer aloud and hear their echos reflect back at them so they can feel validated.

David Schofield thinks he can't be defined, and then proceeds to define his "opinions".  He says:
December 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm
How do you ban someone you can’t define? I’m a sceptic. I believe the climate changes. I believe man plays a (small) part. I don’t believe this is catastrophic. I believe some research should be undertaken. I don’t believe models work. Ban me?

David S thinks he has some "evidence to support his position" whatever that may be and says:
December 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm
I find it disturbing that the warmists think that we don’t have evidence to support our position. It is the warmists that are hypothesising that natural climate patterns are not as it seems. It is they who are the deniers and should be required to provide the evidence which unfortunately for them does not exist. Climate models, and hypotheses based on them is not evidence neither is fabricated consensus. The reactions of warmists to refuse to debate issues is the clearest evidence of their lack of evidence

Steve from Rockwood corrects an earlier comment of his and says:
December 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm
I stand corrected. The reddit /r/science forum does have 4 million users. Please disregard my earlier post. Must work on my reading comprehension.

Jim G quotes the disinformation Brit who tries to persuade his readers that science doesn't support the science it supports or something and says:
December 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm
Delingpole told FoxNews.com, arguing that Allen’s tactic is part of a “classic liberal defense mechanism: If the facts don’t support you, then close down the argument.”
That is a bullseye. Few here deny changing climate in any event. We merely argue with the proposed causal variables for that change and faulty predictions of past, present and future climate and expectations of same. Better not to emulate A&E ala Duck Dynasty

Mike Maguire is appalled that his grand-daughter is being presented with facts at school and says (excerpt):
December 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm
...Our youngest generation has been completely brainwashed by design on this topic. My 2nd grade grand daughters science book(not just teacher….book) had a chapter on humans negative impact on our planet. It stated damages from global warming and the changing climate from carbon dioxide coming from power plants and cars.

sean is fairly typical of the more erudite thinkers at WUWT and says:
December 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm
Nathan Allen — yet another eco-fascist junk scientist who projects his own cognitive bias on others.

WUWT's resident troll and moderator, dbstealey, who savagely attacks anyone normal who ventures a comment at WUWT, with a straight face talks about "head-nodders" and says:
December 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm
...I hope you see what they’re doing: corraling scientific skeptics into their own separate enclosure. Since as you note, CAGWers do not go to that page, Reddit is [effectively] making it a group of head-nodders.
Who wants that? 


  1. Loosely related is this recent idiotic 'notrickszone' post which claims an Alexa Site Popularity Ranking denies a scientific consensus on AGW.


    It reads like an 'The Onion' article but the really funny bit is that this is an actual claim by a much read 'skeptic-blog'.

    1. Oh, thanks. Might be worth an article.

      I went to the original list and see that Anthony Watts asked especially for his favourite blog to be added :) (He was a bit out in the ranking. Not bad for a blog that's just had it's first birthday, thanks to all you readers!)

      Also, ClimateProgress would probably rank number one. ScottishSceptic used the old web address and probably never goes there. No-one else commented on the fact but it's always been much more popular than WUWT AFAIK.

      I'd also hazard a guess that many of the blogs on scienceblogs would ranks quite highly, but they aren't ranked separately in Alexa.

  2. The whole ranking is a farce; all it shows is that there's lots of self-described 'skeptic' sites, many more than there are 'warmists' sites. That is no surprise really as the latter category does not rely almost solely on blogs to communicate with its' peers; that is done via peer-reviewed papers published in scientific journals, a category not included in this 'ranking'.

    It is just a matter of time before an anti-vaxxer uses the same 'methodology' to determine that the usefulness of vaccines has been shattered just because anti-vaccines sites score higher on Alexa's Popularity Ranking than 'pro-vaccines' sites.


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