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Rebutting skeptic arguments in a single tweet

Posted on 25 July 2010 by John Cook

Last Tuesday, we published one-liner rebuttals to all the skeptic arguments. Later that day, I received an email from Kieren Diment, a social scientist and programmer (he wrote The Definitive Guide to Catalyst). Kieren suggested I should add some code allowing people to tweet the one-liners directly from the website. And just for good measure, he went and created a spreadsheet of all 118 arguments, generated short URLs for each argument and the code for each tweet. So now when you look at the list of skeptic arguments, you'll see a Twitter button beside each argument. These take you to Twitter and prepopulate the "What's happening?" form with the one-liner along with a short URL link:

1 "It's the sun" The sun’s output has barely changed since 1970 and is irrelevant to recent global warming.
2 "Climate's changed before" The climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time, which now is dominated by humans.
3 "There is no consensus" Around 95% of climate experts agree that humans are causing global warming.

Of course, it took a bit of hand-holding from Kieren before I could get it working on the site. He pointed me towards the API which enabled me to automatically grab short URLs for each skeptic argument. I tried writing code to trim the one-liners down even further, stripping old fashioned, unnecessary 20th century words like "the" and "an" which rarely appear in  tweets (if George Orwell was alive now, he'd be jumping up and down yelling "I called it!"). Kieren took a look at my code and patiently showed me how to do it properly.

Finally, we got there. Still, I still might tinker with the code a little more. I'm finally starting to get the whole concept of hashtags. I still might replace common buzzwords like "climate" or "global warming" with "#climate" and "#globalwarming" - apparently all the young whippersnappers on Twitter are doing it these days. I've already received one dressing down tweet criticising me for not using hashtags. Youngsters these days have no tolerance for us old-timers if we don't get the lingo right.

Ironically, I didn't even notice the hashtag tweet for several months due to my Twitter ineptitude. Although I created the Skeptical Science Twitter page back in December 2009, I had no clue how it all works until the last few weeks when I installed Twitterrific on the iPad. I tapped 'Mentions' to discover all these people had been tweeting me questions and messages for months! So apologies to all those whose tweets went unanswered throughout the year. I'm now starting to respond to tweet messages to @skepticscience.

So here's how I responded to a recent tweet message, taking advantage of the new tweet links on Skeptical Science. Last night, someone sent me the following tweet:

@skepticscience please stop this silly propaganda. "It's now clear that the green house gases..." Since when is it clear??

This was in response to a tweet where I linked to a climate change guide by the UK Met Office where they start off stating man-made greenhouse gases are causing climate change. I really have to stop being surprised when people aren't aware of the many lines of empirical evidence for man-made global warming (despite my efforts to harp on and on and on about them). If someone is predisposed towards climate skepticism, they're hardly going to expend much effort looking for evidence to prove themselves wrong. So this provided an ideal opportunity to stretch my newly developing tweeting muscles and reply with a link to the evidence that greenhouse gases are causing global warming:

@vitezslavzurek it was clear when satellites & surface directly observed increased greenhouse effect

Of course, it should go without saying that a short tweet is hardly the final word in a climate discussion. On the contrary, it's just the first step - an opportunity to point people towards more resources, evidence and peer-reviewed research. My short answer hopefully explained that the basis for man-made global warming is scientific evidence and direct observations. Then I provided a link to the empirical evidence for the increased greenhouse effect.

So many thanks to Kieren Diment for making all this possible. Thanks also to Nigel Leck who first suggested I pare the one-liners down to less than 100 characters, paving the way. Nigel also suggested other ways to trim the one-liners into lean and mean tweets, with word substitutions like "because" to "b/c" (chill out, George Orwell, it's the future). It's taken a while but I'm finally starting to get the hang of all this new-fangled technology and another tool is added to Skeptical Science, helping to communicate climate science to the public.

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Comments 1 to 7:

  1. Awesome John. We need more short punchy replies to denial (I do bits and pieces, but obviously not to the same quality). We waste a lot of energy have circular debate with those who reject the science when we should be able to deflect this kind of thing to standard places and begin the more interesting discussions of what to do from here! :)
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  2. John, You continue to be cutting edge with regard to communicating the science. You are a hero to many of us. Thank you.
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  3. So is the penguin going to get a cape? :)
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  4. John, as ProfMandia said. Plus a big thank-you to Kieren Diment.
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  5. I'm not sure Orwell would be as upset as you seem to think. You see, your post was right beside Orwell's blog in my Google Reader today. I found that kind of funny when you kept mentioning him.
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  6. Funny, most of the tweeps I follow write English (apart from a few silly words like "tweeps" and rather specialised uses of proper words like "follow", of course). There's selection bias here, though, as if they didn't I wouldn't follow them.
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  7. This is good news. But about presenting the evidence, please, PLEASE remember: a lot of people out there are far more quick to believe the politicians have all bought into this as a scam in order to tax the air we breathe. Why are they so quick to believe this, and so slow to look at the evidence you present them? Because 1) it [the only possible mitigation -- a "carbon tax") really is a radical paradigm shift, one that sounds uncomfortably close to "taxing the air we breathe" and 2) ever since the Vietnam War, we have been living in an era when people simply do not trust government, lawyers and politicians any more. It has only become worse with the frustrating, partisan gridlock in Washington. I am sure it is no coincidence that the gridlock is being caused by the same people who so vigorously block any serious attempt to deal with global warming.
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