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Reality Drop - using social media to rapidly respond to climate misinformation

Posted on 1 March 2013 by John Cook

One of the more disturbing elements of misinformation is summarised by a pithy quote from Winston Churchill: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on". Even more perturbing is the fact that Churchill's quote came before the Internet and the age of Twitter, when a lie can take wings in the time it takes to tap 140 characters. However, the Climate Reality Project have just released a new website Reality Drop, that hopes to give truth a leg up.

Here's how it works: Reality Drop rounds up the latest climate news and lets users know where climate misinformation is posted. Then users can drop some reality into the conversation. Doing so earns them points, climbing the leaderboard and earning higher rank. Their video explains the concept succinctly:

This website achieves something I've been wanting to do for years but never found the time to create – a rapid response system to online misinformation. However, Reality Drop's version is much cooler than anything I had in mind so perhaps it was for the best! The website provides several valuable features. It empowers people who are passionate about the climate issue by giving them a way to communicate the realities of climate change. It provides the facts in plain language. The social media aspect with points and ranking make the process interactive and engaging.

The website borrows much content from Skeptical Science's rebuttals and acknowledge so on their About page (in fact, our content is creative commons licensed so all communicators are very welcome to use our rebuttals). If you peruse the climate myths at Reality Drop, you'll see they're sorted into a familiar taxonomy. The rebuttals to a specific myth sometimes include the more detailed SkS rebuttal. But importantly, each page also includes a short, plain English version of each rebuttal which is a valuable resource for people engaging with climate misinformation online.

One potential flaw with the system is that it can lead to the same text being cut and pasted repeatedly into the same comment thread. Having multiple users pasting an identical paragraph to boost their Reality Drop ranking is not a good outcome. Reality Drop tries to mitigate this by encouraging users to express the science in their own words rather than a simple cut and paste. Perhaps they can more strongly encourage personalised debunking and discourage copy and pasting.

Let's hope that users will take personalisation on board for several reasons. Not only does it make the science more compelling if expressed in a unique, personal fashion, nothing strengthens your own understanding of the science like having to explain it to others in your own words.

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Comments 1 to 19:

  1. Given the strength of Skeptical Science's rebuttals I am glad they are the core of the Reality Drop rebuttals.

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  2. That's pretty much what I do on a daily basis, except without the benefit of using the website to keep track of all my Internet Arguments.

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  3. I just visited the site and found it very attractive and useful if one goes through the exercise as instructed.

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  4. John, the pithy quote goes,“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes,” and is ahem, by Mark Twain:


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    Moderator Response: [RH] Fixed link that was breaking page formatting.
  5. John and brent, the quote was actually by A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on"
    Rev. Charles Spurgeon (1859)

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    Response: [JC] The version of the quote I use is by Winston Churchill, but that it goes as far back as Charles Spurgeon makes the contrast with modern times even greater. Thanks for the info.
  6. Even if the same text and link gets pasted into a comment thread multiple times, I don't think that's a bad thing or pointless duplication. Especially if it's a busy comment thread, it means more readers will be exposed to at least one of the link's postings. It also shows a kind of strength in numbers. The more posts we have in support of the science and with good links the better.

    One thing I also like about this is that the Reality Drop site itself becomes almost the Definitive source for any and all climate related news articles, even local level news from all around the world. I'll definitely be visiting it for this aspect, and if I can help out by quickly dropping in some rebuttals it'll be time well spent indeed!

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  7. I'd say discussion needs a common language, and that, I think is why talking about scientific findings should happen in scientific terms. The difficulty here is possibly that some people do not recognize the scientific skeptic in them, and get all emotional about sides and others.

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  8. Sorry about the bad link in my previous comment re the Spurgeon/Twain/Churchill quote. Try this.

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  9. (-snip-)

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    Moderator Response: [DB] Your previous comment was deleted because it made suggestions of fraudulent activity (astroturfing) contrary to the comments policy. This current comment was snipped due to moderation complaints. This site's comments policy has not changed...and neither has your laissez-faire attitude towards adherence to it.
  10. Foxgoose raises the issue as to whether this is a type of astroturfing.  The answer is no, it is not.  Astroturfing is the use of paid employees to give the appearance of popular, grassroots support whereas Reality Drop attempts to give tools to the assumed pre-existing popular acceptance of, and willingness to do something about AGW.  If, in fact, that popular acceptance does not exist, the "Reality Drop" project will fail.

    And, Foxgoose, I believe your prior comment was deleted because it made suggestions of fraudulent activity (astroturfing) contrary to the comments policy, and that your currently displayed comment will be deleted as all moderation complaints are.  The later is because they are necessarilly of topic, and because once a moderator has seen them, they have served their legitimate purpose.  Such complaints, if reasonable can, and has in the past promoted debate among moderators about the correct interpretation of comments policy.

    This comment may well be deleted as a reply to a deleted comment (and as a comment on comments policy).  I hope Foxgoose has time to read it before that happens.

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  11. I have just had a quick look at Reality Drop, and it looks great - a really cool concept. The initial load of story content is either US centric or global science. Does anyone know if users can load Australian content? The next few months are likely to be really ugly in Australian politics and a tool such as this could help counter the dark tide of misinformation in which we are sure to find ourselves swimming.

    A related matter is the topic spread. Here in Australia the dark tide of misinformation also includes a concerted push against renewable energy, with important policy instruments like the Renewable Energy Target under sustained attack. Are such topics off-topic as far as Reality Drop are concerned?

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  12. Alces @ 5 and John @ 5.  I'll leave it to readers to consider whether the pithy quotation is more likely to have been coined by an obscure English Baptist preacher or his almost exact contemporary, one of the best humorists of all times.  But the reason I was interested in the attribution is that it's given as Mark Twain when the quote is used as the heading to chapter 12 of a tome entitled, 'The Hockey Stick And The Climate Wars'. The copy I have in front of me claims the author of this is a certain Michael E Mann.

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  13. brent @12, whether an obscure American journalist or the most renown English preacher was the author of the quote is easilly checked.  The facts are, although the quote is often attributed to Twain, no such attribution also cites a source.  In contrast, it is to be found in black and white in a book published by Spurgeon in 1858 (page 74).    Spurgion writes:

    'It is well said in the old proverb, "A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on."'

    As I presume Spurgeon was not lying, it follows that neither Twain nor Spurgeon were the author of the quote, though apparently Spurgeon was the first to put it in print.

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  14. Tom Curtis @ 13, you must excuse my ignorance as to what's hot and what's not in Baptist circles.  But I think the original reason for my interest in this isn't significantly altered.

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  15. Tom Curtis @13, Thanks for that link.  A bit of further digging revealed that the snippet in that 1858 book is actually from a sermon preached in 1855 ... Sermon 17 in this PDF.

     brent @ 14, your argument appears to be that empirical evidence (citation provided by Tom Curtis) is trumped by your ideology. Given the subject of the quote (truth), I find that somewhat ironic.

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  16. Alces @15, you may find this link more convenient (it is just the single sermon).  The sermon is clearly dated to April 1, 1855, at which time Clemens was working on riverboats.

    Your criticism of Brent, however, is not justified.  He has merely expressed disinterest in the source of the quote, in a tongue in cheek (I presume) dismissal of Spurgeon.  My dismissal of Clemens (Twain) was equally tongue in cheek, of course. 

    Why, however, he finds it interesting that Michael Mann used the quote (and misattributed it to Twain) is beyond me.  The last I looked Mann was not claiming to be a literary scholar, so his acceptance of a common (though mistaken) attribution is, I would think, quite irrelevant.

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  17. Alces @ 15, my ideology is that I had a scientific education, have long been deeply concerned about global warming and that I value SkS very highly as one of the best sources of information on the subject.  I don't, however, believe it should be beyond criticism.

    Tom Curitis @ 16, thanks for your courteous reply.  Yes, I was being tongue in cheek, perhaps inappropriately.  I'm English and have lived in this country most of my life without ever having heard of Spurgeon, and my impression is that very few people today are aware of his existence.  But I quite accept that your attribution of the quotation to him is correct - it's interesting it was an old proverb even when he was writing.

    I considered the matter for a couple of days before making my comment @12.  My point, possibly a trivial one, is that John attributing the quotation to Churchill made me wonder if he's read Mike Mann's book.  If not I thoroughly recommend it.  Mann turns out to be a fine author and gives an eloquent personal account of the astonishingly unscrupulous methods contrarians use, and of the lengths to which they go to try to discredit science with ad hominem attacks.   

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  18. brent @ 17, my apolgies for missing the tongue-in-cheek nature of your comment. I agree that Michael Mann's book is a masterpiece, and I'm a big fan of Mark Twain. My use of the term "your ideology" was unwarranted - I mistakenly thought you were dismissing Spurgeon as a citation because of the fact that he was a Baptist preacher, not because of his current obscurity.  To me it's a simple question of who said it first, no matter how famous or obscure that person was.

    "People misquote me on the Internet all the time. Please cut that sh1t out" -Albert Einstein

    But I realize this discussion has strayed off topic ....  Reality Drop looks like a useful tool with potential to complement SkS's carefully researched articles.

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  19. As a not unexpected note, WUWT has blocked links from Reality Drop, insofar as they can, using the URL origin. 

    Apparently WUWT's best response to critiques based on peer-reviewed literature is to stick their fingers in their ears, sing "la la la", and ignore them. That's just sad. 

    Disengaging from discussion, ignoring other points of view, blocking dissention - I seem to recall complaints from the 'skeptics' on just those items. "Emulating the Enemy", or at least the perception of the enemy, perhaps?

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