Sunday, February 19, 2017

"Fake science" promoter, Anthony Watts, doesn't like a "how to respond" article. Who'd have guessed...

Sou | 5:51 PM Go to the first of 9 comments. Add a comment
Anthony Watts, who is known (by those who've heard of him) for promoting lies and disinformation, explained why he didn't like a press release (archived here). The article was about a talk at the AAAS annual meeting held in Boston last week.  The talk was by Dominique Brossard from University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was one of three speakers on a panel discussing: "Fake News and Social Media: Impacts on Science Communication and Education". The other speakers were Julie Coiro, University of Rhode Island and Dan Kahan, Yale Law School. The panel was moderated by Seth Borenstein of Associated Press, who is also listed as organiser.

Needless to say I got this information myself. As usual, Anthony Watts, fake news expert, didn't provide any links to his copy and pasted article, or any context information. In fact he didn't have anything much to say about the content of the press release. He probably didn't read it properly. Instead he wrote what he wanted his readers to think:
But the laughable thing is that this PR is little more than a notice of “I met with AP’s science write Seth Borenstein and we talked about it“. That’s not a science response to the issue, and to say it is, is just as much “fake news” and the press pablum they talk about. – Anthony
I don't know what Anthony Watts would regard as a "science response". Does he think that scientists shouldn't give talks at science meetings? Does he think that a panel of scientists isn't a panel of scientists?

Perhaps he'd agree that the panel member Julie Coiro gave a science response. This is how her talk was described in the AAAS program (my emphasis):
This presentation will first share empirical data from five studies that demonstrate the challenges learners encounter when asked to analyze and evaluate the quality of information they encounter on the Internet. Findings elaborate on the unfounded, or otherwise, superficial criteria that many students use to justify their reasoning. Then, four sets of instructional practices will be discussed with accompanying examples and digital tools that can be integrated into curriculum for middle and high school students.

Dan Kahan's talk was described in this way - would Anthony regard this as a "science response"?
The advent of “fake news” disseminated by social media is a relatively novel phenomenon, the impact of which has not been extensively studied. Rather than purporting to give an authoritative account, then, I will describe two competing models that can be used to structure empirical investigation of the effect of “fake news” on public opinion. The information aggregator account (IA) sees individuals’ beliefs as a register of the sum total of information sources to which they’ve been exposed. The motivated processor account (MP), in contrast, treats individuals’ predispositions as driving both their search for information and the weight they assign any information they are exposed to. These theories generate different predictions about “fake news”: that it will significantly distort public opinion, in the view of IA; or that it will be near irrelevant, in the view of MP. In addition to discussing the provenance of these theories in the science of science communication, I will identify some of the key measurement challenges they pose for researchers and how those challenges can be surmounted. 

The phenomenon of "fake news" may or may not have been extensively studied yet (there have been quite a few related studies), but the "fake news" phenomena is being studied. (More on that in an upcoming article here.)

Hope and fake science

Dominique Brossard's talk didn't have a description, but it did have the press release. One of the things reported was this:
Unlike other kinds of fake news, inaccurate science news often spreads through social networks because it sometimes offers hope, Brossard says. People will share stories that fit what they want to believe, like a new treatment might cure a loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease. 
You might not regard Anthony Watts' promoting Tim Ball's conspiracy nuttery as a beacon of hope. You might not think that the bizarre antics of Ari Halperin/Leo Goldstein stem from hope. However it's probably fair to say that part of the reason Anthony's dimwits believe his lies that all the world's scientists (and especially those at NOAA) are faking data on rising surface temperature, arctic ice melt, receding glaciers, heat waves, floods and more is because they're chasing (false) hope that global warming isn't really happening.

Not a lot of hope offered

I'm guessing that Anthony Watts wouldn't have liked the answers offered by Dominique Brossard, either. I'll summarise them (based on the press release):
  1. Scientists need to talk with journalists about their work or the journalists will go to less qualified sources elsewhere. (Offering more facts won't change people's minds, but explaining the facts will help responsible journalists write accurately.)
  2. Research institutions and universities need to monitor the media and the internet and pick up on and correct mischievous and misleading information about research done by their scientists. ("Quality or brand control")
  3. Google and other search engines should remove retracted studies from search results.
The points are fairly straightforward and not especially new or mind-boggling. They won't be enough on their own in my view, but neither is there anything wrong with them. All of them are already being done to a great extent, particularly in climate science. In other words, there's nothing much new being suggested that would offer hope for climate scientists, who've been combating fake science for decades. Other sciences may learn something though.

The third point could be extended to only include in Google Scholar articles that have been published in scientific journals, rather than by known fake science publishers.

Not a clear dichotomy between fake and real news

Professor Brossard also suggested in the press release:
“There is not a clear dichotomy between fake news and real news,” she says. “Scientists should engage in communicating their work and realize it’s not ‘us versus them, the public.’ They need to be aware of the consequences of what they say and take into account what we know about science communication. They shouldn’t shy away.” - 
To my mind, that point about "not a clear dichotomy" is exploited relentlessly by fake news purveyors like Fox and even conspiracy blogs like WUWT and InfoWars. Disinformers will pick one point like "CO2 is plant food" and, using a series of logical fallacies, build on it to create the false impression that CO2 is all good. They will even try to frame it as if CO2 can't change climate (because it can change a plant's response).

The other point about scientists needing to take into account what we know about science communication is important. There are some scientists (you know who you are) who turn up their noses at social sciences and think they know it all. They think that having dinner with disinformer journalists will make them disinform less. Well, we all know how that turned out.

Who's silly?

Back to Anthony and his attempt at making out that this press release was "Silly PR". He was arguing that a panel on science communication can't be any good if it was moderated by a science communicator (Seth Borenstein).  That's Anthony Watts, dim denier blogger, trying to take down one of the top science journalists in the USA. That is laughably SAD (to use a favourite word of the inveterate liar, the current President of the USA).

Alternatively, you could describe it as just plain silly.

By the way - Anthony doesn't contribute to his own blog much these days. His blog is just a notice board for "guest" writers. These 122 words (not counting the headline) with which he prefaced his unsourced copy and paste are a rarity.

Donald Trump has jumped on the fake news bandwagon

As you probably know by now, fake news is all the rage in the USA and, to a slightly lesser extent, elsewhere in developed countries. It's been the rage over centuries in various other countries at different times, usually when those countries are ruled by tyrants who feel threatened by the populace. (Trump's job approval rating is abysmal.)

Donald Trump, the White House apprentice, has followed the fashion trend and is a fierce defender and promoter of fake news. He just gave his first solo press conference as President. (He previously gave one as President Elect.) He filled it with his own lies, including rants at the much more responsible press, falsely alleging that it's the mainstream media who is spreading fake news. It's not. It's Donald Trump and the less reputable media. Kellyanne Conway calls this "alternative facts".

Trump also had his first 2020 campaign rally, in the style of someone who needs some reassurance that he still has some fans left.  At that rally he went on about a non-existent terrorist attack in Sweden. WTF? It prompted some to scratch their heads and muse how Trump probably regards Fox and Friends as "more credible than his daily intelligence briefing". How many people believed him, I wonder? Maybe someone will do a poll :)

Reminder - March for Science

This might be a good time to remind anyone who's willing to stand up for science that on Earth Day, 22 April 2017, there are going to be Marches for Science all around the world. You can check for one near you.

From the WUWT comments

The discussion began with deniers wanting to justify their high fat diets. After a bit it switched to climate. kim is a hard core science denier who wants to keep his or her fake news, thank you very much:
February 18, 2017 at 10:56 am
Seth Borenstein and Dan Kahan should worry more about the ‘fake news’ that CO2 is a pollutant, and that AnthroCO2 is a danger.

Janice Moore is another hard core science denier who rejects 200 years of science:
February 18, 2017 at 12:12 pm
Yes, indeed, kim.
When I read the introductory lines to this post while it was still in my in box, I filled in the blank like this:
While there’s always been tabloids that make up “alien abductions”, Bigfoot, HAARP, and the like – science has never had a need to bother responding to it. The one exception I know of is anthropogenic global warming.
THAT is the fake news of the century.

Bloke down the pub was probably looking for some kudos from HotWhopper, for a change, by disagreeing with Anthony Watts:D
February 18, 2017 at 11:21 am
To be fair, most of what she said there seems to be perfectly reasonable. We can all put our own slants on it by what we think is good or bad science, 

Just to show that not all of Anthony's dim deniers always agree with him, D. J. Hawkins also came out in support of the press release.
February 18, 2017 at 2:21 pm
Second your observation. I was expecting some kind of sub-rosa support for CAGW, but nothing reared its ugly head in this article. 

davidmhoffer wants to keep retracted studies in Google search engines. His argument is that this is a "vital part of advancing science". His argument probably has some merit.
February 18, 2017 at 11:21 am
Third, Google and other search engines should remove retracted studies from search results
No. A thousand times NO. Keeping retracted studies available (but marked as retracted) is a vital part of advancing science. You cannot advance science without understanding the mistakes that have been made, and “disappearing” a bad study allows those who produced it to hide from scrutiny, their incompetence or deliberate malfeasance now cloaked from view. This would also would allow the journals which were duped into publishing the papers to escape scrutiny their incompetence from scrutiny.
Worse (MUCH WORSE) there is this increasingly accepted call from certain segments of society for companies like Google and Facebook to use their power to limit, control and direct the flow of information for the “good” of the public. Who draws the line on this very slippery slope? This would concentrate enormous power in the hands of the very few.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
~ Baron Acton 
It looks as if JohnKnight might be an anti-vaxxer who prefers fake science to real (because of "hope"?).
February 18, 2017 at 2:00 pm
“THe main problem with the Wakefield study was that it took 10 years to get it retracted.”
I looked into the matter myself, and it looks to me like the retraction is the “fake news” aspect, not the study. I suggest others be skeptical of “retractions” too, when there’s billions of dollars on the line . .

J Mac wants Andrew Wakefield and Anthony Watts and Tim Ball and all the pseudo-scientists peddling lies on the internet put in jail, together with everyone who promote their fake science. Or that's what I think he's arguing.
February 18, 2017 at 12:10 pm
The root cause of ‘Fake News’ or Fake Science is dishonesty. People willfully report what is not true, to mislead their intended audiences. Corrective actions for deliberate dishonesty in academia and journalism should be loss of credentials, fines, and jail time for the persons involved. Without the real prospects of punishment, this protected class of dishonesty has no disincentives… and no reason to change.
A professor in communications and behavioral sciences like Prof. Brossard should know this. If she really wanted to effect honest change, she would focus her attention on behavioral modifications needed to minimize dishonesty in news and science, rather than aiding the dishonest with improved methods to ‘contextualize their works’. 

Joel O'Bryan wrote about "Progressives" and shame and virtue signaling. He who should be ashamed writing about shame. Hmmm.
February 18, 2017 at 1:24 pm (excerpt)
The problem is Progressives in academia and journalism have abandoned the notion of shame. My take on their lack of shame is two-fold. First, shame has no place when one feels justification for dishonesty because of the corrupting influence they are doing so for a larger, “noble cause.” The second is “virtue signaling” within their peer-group for acceptance (or more powerfully, not wanting to be ostracized or be labeled with the D-word). 

Ross King is getting on in years (like some of us), judging by his use of capital letters. He's another hard-core science denier who is a fan of fake science.
February 18, 2017 at 12:52 pm
This airy-fairy theorizing by Brossard is gobble-de-gook, unless we’re getting scientific news that’s straight, un-biased, un-adulterated, un-mannipulated, open to challenge, un-homogenized for tendentious intent, and issued in the spirit of open Scientific Method.
Brossard completely misses the ‘Elephant in the Room’ which is the Black Cloud hanging over the shattered credibility of Climate Scientists and their Masters. 

tony mcleod (who's a fan of good science) argues that it's lack of science education that is at the root of the problem.  
February 18, 2017 at 2:32 pm
The biggest enabler is the lack of science education among the general population. There is a good case to be made that all first year tertiary studies should include wide-ranging, generalist subjects including science to produce a more well-rounded graduate. Let alone more at secondary level. Science and mathematics seem to be getting more and more marginalised.

Plenty of smart people I know are really science dummies, in no position to think critically about what they are hearing or reading. Two-fold problem: they are willing to entertain quackery and at the same time lose faith in and become more cynical of scientists and their evidence. When the water is muddied with half-truths and fake news that is not going to help.

Kent Clizbe likes Retraction Watch, except for the fact that the "guy who runs the site" isn't persuaded by fake science about climate. Why he doesn't take that as a sign that climate science is real is a ponderable question. Is it hope that keeps him hanging on to denial?
February 18, 2017 at 3:40 pm
In the last couple of years, there has been a realization, in the scientific community that they have problems with fake data, copied data, withheld data, fraud, plagiarism, gaming the system, and worse. A funded group arose to be a watch dog on fake science, and to advocate for monitoring the fakes, and sharing the stories, retractions, convictions, fakes, and more.
It’s called Retraction Watch.
When it first arose, it appeared to be a perfect venue for putting the stake in the heart of fake climate science. The cases it chronicles nearly all parallel the happenings in climate “science.”
And yet…the guy who runs the site, Ivan Oransky, appears to buy-in to the alarmist line. He refuses to address or discuss climate science misdeeds or false claims.
It would be great if those who care about the destruction of science could chime in at Retraction Watch with requests to focus on climate science.
It’s here: http://retractionwatch.com/ 

That's a bit like Leo Goldstein / Ari Halperin complaining that almost everyone in the world accepts climate science and that humans are causing climate change, but he thinks it's a hoax.

Sapient Hetero is yet another climate science denier who showed a bit of spunk and said he or she doesn't agree with Anthony Watts. I'm thinking this shows there is something worth thinking about in the suggestion that finding shared values with people might be a first step. Okay, so it doesn't work with hard-core science deniers, but it may help with the undecideds.
February 18, 2017 at 6:13 pm
I’m thoroughly convinced that climate alarmism is hokum but don’t really see anything to object to in this article. Journalists constantly misconstrue or exaggerate the significance of scientific press releases & can use all the help they can get. I read this as an ad for the “life sciences communications” professor’s field of study.
I see the concern relative to climate alarmism, since this is exactly what they’ve tried to do; faux-splain away any inconvenient truths that expose their conspiracy as “fake news”. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water; much science reporting is awful for non-ideological reasons and could use improvement.

The archive ends with JohnKnight again. He's not just an anti-vaxxer who believes vaccines cause autism (see above), he's also a chemtrails conspiracy theorist.
February 18, 2017 at 7:00 pm
Readers, Mr. Watts writes;
“While there’s always been tabloids that make up “alien abductions”, Bigfoot, HAARP, and the like – science has never had a need to bother responding to it. The one exception I know of is this study definitively showing the chemtrails nonsense to be just that.”
Please note that Mr. Watts never presented any evidence that demonstrated no one is getting into planes (or controlling them remotely) in order to spray things into the atmosphere. He simply assumed (as far as I could tell) that if there are other explanations for what some people have claimed was such spraying going on, then those explanations must be true in all cases, and people cannot be spraying things into the atmosphere.
Of course people can spray things into the air, even if some people might think something is that happening, when it’s not . . demonstrating they aren’t happening is not the same as demonstrating there are potential explanations for people wrongly thinking they are. 

References and further reading

Fake News and Social Media: Impacts on Science Communication and Education - details of the session at the AAAS Annual Meeting, 16-20 February 2017.

Communications expert advises how science should respond to fake news - press release about the segment from Professor Dominique Brossard at the AAAS Annual Meeting.


  1. As this is a story about False News perhaps an article would be of interest, particularly as this outfit is the information Chanel for a large number of people to their and our detriment.

    1. Good article, and I like that it cites evidence.

      Trump isn't very original in his lies. He gets a lot of his talking points from Fox, the ones that aren't from his advisers, like about how his crowds/votes were "huge". He has a deep desire to be loved and to be right. He's neither.

  2. Nice summary of the WUWT website again Sou! The people at WUWT will be happy again for this extra attention.
    But please stop giving your utterly biased comments, because they are all nonsense.

    1. Evidence? Or is your comment meant to show the HW article is spot on?

      BTW, which WUWT "thought" was yours, Bojangles?

    2. "The people at WUWT will be happy again for this extra attention."

      You must be from that sorry world of alternative facts Bo: whenever Anthony refers to Sou it is in terms that indicate he is extremely unhappy about her activities. But then, to be fair, when a woman refers to you as a stalker, you might be so desperate you take it as a compliment.

    3. "whenever Anthony refers to Sou it is in terms that indicate he is extremely unhappy about her activities."
      Gee Millicent, I always thought it was exactly the other way around...

    4. Sou debunks his nonsense. Anthony is unhappy seeing his nonsense being debunked. And you - according to your own post - are not aware of the latter part of this relationship. He has remarked upon it, and yet you are not aware of it. Is there a problem with your memory?

    5. Bojangles.

      I'll bite on your tone trolling. Give me the best example you can think of HotWhopper's "biased" comments, and why you think the example is "biased".

    6. He he. If Bojangles wants biased, how's this? I assert that science deniers typically argue by assertion, not from evidence.

      What's that? You want evidence? Here it is (And here) :D


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