Saturday, March 7, 2015

Worried by facts, quote-mining tides Anthony Watts over at WUWT

Sou | 8:56 PM Go to the first of 13 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts is worried, because WUWT won't pass the fact test

In the comments, Chase Stoudt pointed out that Anthony Watts is worried about Google. In a paper in arXiv, a team of people from Google write how in future it might be possible to list results from Google search according to their factual content, putting disinformation sites (like WUWT) way down low:
The quality of web sources has been traditionally evaluated using exogenous signals such as the hyperlink structure of the graph. We propose a new approach that relies on endogenous signals, namely, the correctness of factual information provided by the source. A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy.

Anthony told Fox News how this worried him a lot. He said: "“I worry about this issue greatly… My site gets a significant portion of its daily traffic from Google,”.

Right-wingers are worried too. One of them, Rich Noyes, let the cat out of the bag when he reported that fact-checking sites find a lot more mistakes from the right wing ideologues than from liberals and progressives in the USA. Which won't surprise too many people. As Fox News reported:
He cited a 2013 study by George Mason University researchers, which found that fact-checking site Politifact declared 52% of Republican claims it looked at to be false, but did the same to just 24% of Democratic claims.

Anthony has every right to be worried if Google implements a fact-based approach to its search engine rankings. Even now, WUWT hasn't got a very high page rank on Google. A higher number means it appears closer to the top of Google search results. Wattsupwiththat.com is only ranked at 3. Even humble blog.hotwhopper.com has a page rank of 5. SkepticalScience.com has a page rank of 7, while the Australian national broadcaster has a page rank of 8. (There are a few sites that check Google page ranks, such as this one.)

WUWT's blatant deception about changing tides

Anthony Watts can sometimes be so blatantly deceiving that you've got to wonder whether he's really, really dumb or if he regards his readers as really, really dumb. Or both.

Today he copied and pasted a press release from the University of Southampton, about a new paper in Earth's Future (an open access journal of AGU). That's nothing new. Every so often Anthony will copy and paste a press release, slap the word "claim" in front of his headline, and sit back and watch his denier audience moan how climate science is a hoax.

This time Anthony Watts' headline completely contradicted the press release he copied and pasted. Here's Anthony's headline (archived here):
Study: ‘average sea levels rising; but tide levels, have undergone little change’
Anthony helpfully bolded the words in the press release, so you could see how he quote-mined. Here is the full sentence and paragraph:
It is well documented that global average sea levels are rising; but tide levels, have generally been considered to have undergone little change on decadal time scales. It is also often presumed that tides will not change much over the next century. As such, long-term changes in tides are not accounted for in many practical applications and scenarios affected by rising sea levels.
Notice what Anthony has done? He's plucked half from the "well-documented" clause, which refers to it being well-documented that global average sea levels are rising. He's put it together with part of the subsequent clause - referring to what is not documented, what has "generally been considered". The rest of the press release is about how what has "generally been considered" is not what is observed to be happening. For example, Anthony's article has the following as the next but one paragraph:
Lead author Robert Mawdsley, postgraduate research student in Ocean and Earth Science, says: “We find that at many sites around the world significant changes in tidal levels have already occurred, and at some sites the magnitude of the changes are comparable with the increase in global mean sea level through the 20th century.
See that? "...significant changes in tidal levels have already occurred,"

Here are some other headlines that relate to the exact same article:

Perhaps you can put Anthony's headline down to confirmation bias, or maybe you could argue that the sentence Anthony Watts picked out was ambiguous. If Anthony had read the title of the press release, or the body of the press release he'd copied, he'd have known his headline contradicted the article. But reading and understanding is not Anthony's style. Nor is properly representing science.

As usual, Anthony didn't link to the paper itself (nor to the press release). He'd no excuse for getting his headline wrong. The press release said the opposite. The title of the press release said the opposite. The paper said the opposite. The title of the paper said the opposite:
Global secular changes in different tidal high water, low water and range levels
The first sentence of the Results section of the paper states:
Results from our analysis show that significant (95% confidence) secular changes have occurred in all tidal levels, and at sites on every continent and around every ocean basin, over the time span of the observations.  
How could Anthony have got it so wrong? Did he simply misunderstand the article? Was he being mischievous? Was he testing the comprehension of his readers?

From the WUWT comments

Some of Anthony's readers only read the WUWT headline, others read the article and ignored Anthony's headline.

rms ignored Anthony's headline, but probably only reads disinformation at WUWT. rms doesn't know that global warming is happening.
March 6, 2015 at 1:10 pm
If climate change is temperature change, and the temperature has not changed, so the water should not have expanded and ther is no extra water from polar melting … Where is the water coming from?
warrenlb set rms straight;
March 6, 2015 at 1:31 pm
You have your explanation within your hypothesis. The Climate is warming, and sea levels are rising, per the physics of thermal expansion and melting land ice. 

ralfellis mistakenly thinks that there's been no warming in the past couple of decades, and confuses southern sea ice with continental ice.
March 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm
Yeah – but the climate has not warmed for 18 years and Antarctic ice is growing steadily. So where is the thermal expansion and melting ice coming from? 
Sea ice contributes little to sea level. And here's what's happened to surface and ocean warming over the past two decades:

rgbatduke wrote a very short comment, for him. He didn't bother reading the paper, despite it being open access, and wrote:
March 6, 2015 at 1:13 pm (extract)
Compared to average sea level increases over the last century known exactly how? I mean, they’ve got to be kidding me. Before the satellite era, there is no data, nor any possible way of obtaining data, about tide levels or mid-ocean sea levels. 
No data or any possible way of obtaining data about tide levels or mid-ocean sea levels? Really? I don't think that WUWT-ers would agree with him on that, though no-one has disputed him so far. There's the The NOAA has a lot of tide gauge data going back in time, some from the 1800s. The batty duke has probably never come across Church and White (2011), which shows the number of tide gauge locations around the world going back to 1860, which they used in their analysis of sea level change.

Source: Church and White (2011)

Neil is confused by Anthony's headline - he thinks the tide levels haven't changed, when they have:
March 6, 2015 at 1:23 pm
I don’t get it. If sea levels have risen, why have tide levels not changed?

nankerphelge indulges in gobbledegook.
March 6, 2015 at 1:32 pm
Oh, I just got the science behind the findings. They are using 220 sea level records from around the world. Under the Australian BoM methodology they can use any 220 records to support their findings and when reviewing they can use a different set of 220. Now that is real science.

warrenlb notices the major discrepancy between Anthony's headline and the press release:
March 6, 2015 at 1:36 pm
It seems Mr Watts has the title of his article wrong. Here is what the article actually says: “Scientists from the University of Southampton have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world.” and “Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.”
What was he thinking?

Anthony's fanboi, Chip Javert comes to the rescue and points out the wrong-headed quote-mine, trying to justify the unjustifiable.  Then Louis pipes up to defend warrenlb:
March 6, 2015 at 8:45 pm (extract)
Chip, I’m with Warrenlb on this. ...

Even markx agrees that Anthony's headline is "pretty dodgy":
March 6, 2015 at 10:09 pm
Yeah, I know the psper is c**p, but Anthony’s headline is pretty dodgy….. 
Larry Hamlin says the article is excellent, but the proceeds to contradict everything in it, in a long and waffly comment.
March 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm (extract)
Excellent article. The huge discrepancy between ocean sea level rise measurements usually involving complex use of satellite survey information with claims that the rate of sea level rise is increasing is inconsistent with and sharply contradicted by global wide NOAA tide gauge data.
Nope - it's not contradicted, Larry. That's the whole point.

The Dunning Kruger effect is writ large at WUWT. Some people claim to know for a fact that it's impossible to work out sea level changes, others claim to know for a fact that sea levels have been rising since the last ice age, still others claim to know for a fact that there are no long term records of tides. Then there is Tim, who thinks that rising seas aren't causing rising tides and points out that the scientists don't no nuffin' - it's the sun and the moon wot dun it.:
March 6, 2015 at 2:42 pm
I can’t believe no one has pointed out the total and utter stupidity of this. Here two a quoted comments from the article.
By extracting the tide data from the other components of sea level, they were able to isolate changes in 15 tidal levels by looking at different records of high and low waters from the tidal signal.
The cause of these changes is complex and appears to be a combination of mechanisms from local to global, with the primary driver being the rise in sea level associated with climate change,
Okay people look up tides and what causes them. Are you ready for this…. It is the moon’s and the sun’s gravity. It has nothing to do with climate, nothing. In fact the moon is slowly moving farther from the Earth and thus tides are slowly getting smaller. The shape or topography of the sea coast and depth of water next to the beach will affect tides.
Now storm surges are a different thing, but they are not tides.
Good grief where do these people go to school.
I wonder if Tim went to school? :D

Dong, Xin Luna, Evgeniy Gabrilovich, Kevin Murphy, Van Dang, Wilko Horn, Camillo Lugaresi, Shaohua Sun, and Wei Zhang. "Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating the Trustworthiness of Web Sources." arXiv preprint arXiv:1502.03519 (2015). (open access)

Robert J. Mawdsley, Ivan D. Haigh, Neil C. Wells. "Global secular changes in different tidal high water, low water and range levels". Earth's Future, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2014EF000282 (open access)

Church, John A., and Neil J. White. "Sea-level rise from the late 19th to the early 21st century." Surveys in Geophysics 32, no. 4-5 (2011): 585-602. doi: 10.1007/s10712-011-9119-1 (open access)


  1. As you eviscerate these morons with surgical precision Sou, I can only look on in a sense that we should never surrender to ignorance and disinformation even if it is driven by delusion.
    I feel very sorry for these people. It is sad that they even exist. Some twit will say liberal (USA) intelligentsia, but I doubt they could even spell it.

    What I find most refreshing is morons teaching all of us Physics!

    The tide goes out and the tide comes in. Can you explain this? Bill Oh really to a scientist.

    The only defence against this widespread promulgation of ignorant simplistic ideas is education. I wonder why state based education is floundering while private education is being supported by our Government. Most of these private schools are religiously based.
    As a species we cannot do better for each other if we think that a sky god will save us. The religious nutters of all colours are at best delusional if not insane.
    It is very simple free thought is anathema to the controlling turds that do not even believe their own dogma. Priests and brothers fucking young boys in their care, while telling women that to take the pill or use condoms is a sin!
    I could go on but neither of us has all night and the rest of the week! Bert

  2. I note that AW has not dealt with this matter other than his comment on foxnews.com.
    It's difficult to work the word claim into a a self incriminating sentence. I feel for the guy.

  3. "Good grief where do these people go to school."

    Wish we could earn a dollar for every time we see some variation of this. My approach, instead of factually correcting them, is to point out how strange it is that scientists who have spent decades studying the issue overlooked something that most people learned in grade school. This would pretty much be a career-ending error and they'd not be taken seriously by any other scientist at all.

    Furthermore, the editors of the journal overlooked it this basic bit of information, and all the expert peer-reviewers and other scientists who read the article have also overlooked what the average 12-year old knows. Scientists would regard the journal as a junk journal, refuse to publish in it, and the journal would fold.

    Why would a prestigious scientific journal, along with the authors, peer-reviewers, and science audience all make the same error when a quick google search would show them how wrong they were, especially when an error like this would result in a near complete loss of scientific credibility (a most valuable commodity that every scientist protects)?

    Then I ask, or perhaps, maybe, it is you who has misunderstood something rather than the people who have made this their career?

    At that point, most people I've had this conversation with (face-to-face) back down and move on to something else....they may not change their mind but they're still wise enough to know they'd look like a crackpot if they insisted they were right.

  4. If Watts believes that what he publishes is proper science, why would he worry about Google improving the quality of the search results?

    Unfortunely I think Watts gave his game away with his comment.


    1. Silence would have been a better option but who could resist the lure of being quoted by FoxNews?

  5. Marc Morano, one of the planet's slickest and effective climate deceivers is having the vapours

  6. Sou,

    In your link above:

    It states:
    "See a page's importance using PageRank"

    IE has the wrench icon while (AFAIK) Google Chrome itself does not have a wrench icon. In fact, AFAIK, Google Chrome does not have a built in page rank feature:

    Now, I'm not AlGorisfat, so I did not invent the Internet. Having said that, I do go back to the DOD days of January 1983 (TCP/IP, telnet and ftp days):

    So my specific question is this, what specifically does 'Page Rank' have to do with the general application of a relatively simple search of the Internet (via whatever search engine and/or browser)? In other words, are you filtering out, in any way, search engine results?


    1. I do not think it is filtering any results out. It is just a different way of assigning a page rank.

      You have to have some criteria for page ranking. It is popularity/hits at the moment. For people who want more serious stuff at the top pages perhaps a quackometer result is better.

    2. I've read that pagerank is pretty well dead. I doubt anyone outside of Google knows how it works (or worked), or whether or how it's used in Google search.

    3. Well, when you bring back a bunch of search results, you still have to attempt to put them in order of relevance. PageRank is probably the best way to do that at the moment.

      The way it works is by counting incoming links to your site. Incoming links from sites that have high PageRanks themselves are weighted more heavily, and boost your PageRank.

      I haven't heard anything about PageRank being on the way out. What I suspect is that new techniques like the one we are discussing here (that discounts results from known bogus sites) will be used in addition to PageRank to further tune the search results.

  7. Apparently there are 2.8 billion 'facts' in the Google Knowledge Vault. Someone should demand to know what they are, after which it looks like a job for Tol. Or I could just get the ball rolling with "97% of Google Facts are liberal".

    1. As Stephen Colbert said, "reality has a well known liberal bias. "

  8. Classic Jon Steward on Fox News getting fact checked:



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