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Top 10 most viewed rebuttals in September and October 2019

Posted on 11 November 2019 by BaerbelW, Doug Bostrom

We recently posted about the Top 5 most viewed rebuttals during the month of October on social media and were surprised that the Facebook post garnered quite some reactions and managed to reach many people. So, here is a more detailed blog post also looking at September data which - most likely due to the "Greta effect" saw some interesting spikes and activities.

Let's start with the ten most popular Skeptical Science rebuttals during October 2019:


Note: this is based on views across rebutal versions where there can be up to three. You can access the rebuttals via these links consensus, impacts, past, meatco2, sun, model, greenhouse, antarctica, and 1970s

What does this tell us?

Although Skeptical Science runs a semi-daily blog on matters of the science of anthropogenic climate change with a particular eye to impediments to climate progress, the site was invented and exists for the primary purpose of combating misinformation and disinformation about anthropogenic climate change.

Given our mission, Skeptical Science's main stock in trade consists of a few hundred articles written and maintained by Skeptical Science volunteers, examining various misconceptions about anthropogenic climate change and derived from peer-reviewed scientific research. These are usually presented in several levels of detail and complexity, allowing readers to get a quick synopsis and then seek deeper understanding if desired. Reflecting the site's reason for being, these standing items are viewed far more frequently than our blog posts.

Many of our articles examine what can be classified as normal and expected misconceptions about climate change. It's a sad fact however that these fallacies are often so amplified via public relations campaigns or other channels that they are pushed across the border between misinformation and disinformation. There are also various objections to the concept of human-caused climate change that are pure invention, divorced from facts and (sadly) likely created solely for the purpose of paralyzing public policy responses to the climate problem we have created for ourselves.

Skeptical Science is visited by several hundred thousand people per month, the vast majority arriving as the result of Google or other search engine queries leading them to our various rebuttal/debunking articles.

Hence the site's statistics serve as a kind of barometer of where public confusion about climate change may lie. The prominence of an article may change over time, an interesting thing to consider in terms of what that might say about the varying winds of public interest and understanding.

September 2019

At first sight, views for September don't look to be very different from October - until you check the Y-axis and realise that the "consensus rebuttal" was accessed over 75,000 times (compared to not quite 56,000 in October):


So, what happened during September which caused the view numbers to be considerably higher than usual? Your guess is as good as ours but if we had to bet, we'd place our money on the "global week of climate action" kicking off on September 20 with a huge global climate strike and followed by Greta Thunberg's "How dare you?" speech to world leaders on Sept. 23. This educated guess is corroborated if we look at the daily views across all rebuttals since January 1, 2019 (click for larger version):


And before you ask: we don't know what caused the distinct negative spike shortly afterwards!

One of the - obvious - drivers for the positive spike was the consensus rebuttal which was accessed more than 4,000 times for both the basic and the intermediate version - even the advanced one saw a "mini spike" (clickfor larger version):

Consensus spike

We'll leave it at that for now but would like to hear from you in the comments, if you'd like to see posts of this type regularly, perhaps once per month?

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Comments 1 to 12:

  1. "if you'd like to see posts of this type regularly, perhaps once per month?"

    A huge yes to this. Any one out there fighting the misinformation and confusion out there as I do for far too much of my time :( can recognise 'waves' of specific denialist/contrarian memes in Youtube videos and filtering into article comments,  etc. It would be very good to see if and how the 'general audience' reacts when seeing such comments by seeing a quantified graph of their online 'fact checking'.

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  2. One of the most prevalent deniers' "arguments" is the bald statement "there's no such thing" - almost impossible to counter this especially when so many websites' comments sections are virtually unsearchable. By that I mean - an example here, the London Telegraph - a post disappears in a blizzard of other ones with no way of easily accessing something one has written as a reply. (The Telegraph used to use an outside company, Disqus, which did enable one to get back to a post and counter another's posts.)

    The result is that, having rebutted a denier's point he often comes back with some other gish gallop issue and when he doesn't receive a rebuttal of THAT posts that I have no argument!

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  3. (This post is transferred from an erroneous position in another thread)

    Independently, I can supply a confirmation (semi-quantitative) of a spike in "climate inquiries" in September this year.  Though I wouldn't care to speculate whether the surge of interest comes from the activities of "St Greta of Arc(tic)" or from the Extinction Rebellion actions or from climate action week or whatever.

    I am a fan of the excellent & amusing Youtube video series produced by Potholer54 (science journalist Peter Hadfield).  These debunk climate myths and expose the fabrications and misrepresentations of some of the prominent Denialist propagandists.

    As a little project to engage some of my spare moments, in June this year (and through until today) I jotted down at intervals the cumulative viewing numbers for each of Potholer54's videos.  Now typically, a new video receives a flurry of viewings, presumably mostly from notified subscribers of the series . . . and then the viewing rate decays to a lower level (which might be only 5~10 per day for certain videos, yet over a 100 per day for the more popular videos).

    However, I noticed a surge in viewing rates in late September through to mid October.  The most prominent surges were for about 10 particular videos ~ where the viewing rates rose to around 3~5x the usual background rate.

    So, quite a remarkable increase.  (Numbers have fallen away since then.)

    My record-keeping has been more casual than rigorous, and I don't have a spreadsheet record to permit better analysis.

    Not sure how much more can be teased out of this information: but for those who are interested, these are probably the "most surged" titles :-

    1.     1.Climate Change - the scientific debate

    25.    23-Medieval Warm Period - fact vs fiction

    28.    26-Science vs the Feelies

    33.    Response to "The Global Warming Hoax Lord Monckton & Stefan Molyneux"

    34.    Response to "DEBUNKED : Top 5 "Climate Change" Myths by Louder with Crowder

    35.    Are humans contributing only 3% of CO2 in the atmosphere?

    39.    Top 10 climate change myths

    40.    A conservative solution to global warming (Part 2)

    47.    How accurate are scientific predictions about climate?

    Warning: the left-hand numbers are the numeration used by Youtube for the videos.  But some of the early videos have an older numeration which is incorporated in the video title [as you see, above]. Easy to confuse!

    Science vs the Feelies is a particularly amusing and instructive video, regarding the "intuitive" thinking behind some Denialists.

    Regular readers at SkS may enjoy the videos, and may gain something useful from the comment columns underneath.  Of course I don't mean from the Usual Suspects / the trolls / the loonies etc ~ but I mean that one must admire the deft way Potholer54 responds to them.  He emphasizes that he is not presenting his opinions, but is simply presenting the science (which is found not in newspapers & blogs, but is found in the peer-reviewed scientific papers of respected scientific journals).

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  4. Addendum, regarding website activity:

    A year or two back, the website WUWT puffed an announcement that its internet ranking was around  40,000th for popularity as per hits ~ but I am unsure whether that's an American-only or worldwide ranking.

    WUWT sounded pleased with this ranking . . . and perhaps that is justifiable, considering the huge amount of total websites and internet traffic.    40,000th sounds rather poor compared with (the game) Monopoly's "Second Prize in a Beauty Contest" card.   But I suppose that's too much an apples & oranges comparison.

    WUWT was also quick to point out the 60,000th rank of SkS.   At WUWT, the website SkS is much despised, and usually mentioned grudgingly and rarely . . . though I get the impression that WUWT is often looking over its shoulder at the black velvet curtains which conceal its arch-nemesis  SkS.

    I have no idea what the hit-rate popularity difference is, between 60,000th and 40,000th.    But considering that WUWT is the pre-eminent climate-science denialist website, it doubtless attracts the frequent lightning-bolts of venting by large numbers of Anglophone climate-science crackpots and rabid political-extremist "Angries".   And they very much indulge in repetitous venting in the comments columns of each and every article there, regardless of the article's topic.   Quite a fascinating psycho-pathology, IMO.

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  5. Eclectic, thank's for the tips on the potholer videos. The name rings a bell.

    I suspect part of WUWT 40,000 rank being higher than SkS is that many of the comments posted at WUWT are posted by paid lobbyists  and full time retired cranks. The same people come under more scrutiny here and know repetitious sloganeering isn't tolerated so you dont get so many. This may partly explain the difference in rankings between WUWT and SkS.

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  6. Thanks, Nigelj.

    I will make a few points about website WUWT, and then shut up ~ since it's getting somewhat off-topic.  The comparison of the two websites has some interest here in "numbers" comparison only.  There's no real other comparison . . . I think of SkS as an eagle flying in the sunshine, while WUWT is more like an octopus slithering in the murky depths.

    For those readers wise enough to be unfamiliar with WUWT:- Anthony Watts & team run the WattsUpWithThat website.  Allegedly they don't receive Big Oil funding these days.  Be that as it may, they want to receive a lot of hits/views, partly in order to have enough high rank to pull in advertising of the incidental sort ( e.g. I myself am plagued with telescope advertisements when I click on the WUWT site).

    Accordingly, WUWT has a high turnover of lead articles.  Most articles are brief, and many are slanted propaganda against the reality of AGW and often are rather childish whinges about the teething problems of the gradual transfer to renewables (versus fossil fuel power stations) . . . or whinges about Greta Thunberg, James Hansen, and so on.  There's the occasional leavening with articles about technical developments, or astronomical news, or things of general interest [but not many!].  Then we get the re-posts of Heartland propaganda articles, of GWPF, and of assorted Media op-ed propaganda pieces.  And a succession of crackpot ideas from Lord Monckton, Dr Pat Frank, and similar fringe dwellers of Dunning-Krugerism and Delusion Land.

    WUWT maintains a high hit rate, by having an open-door policy on its comments columns ~ provided that the comments do not support mainstream climate science nor support "climate action".  (A tiny dribble of such comments is permitted by moderators . . . but mainly I suspect to act as red meat and keep the regular clientele in a savage mood.  A prominent exception, is comments by scientist Nick Stokes, who often has something pertinent to say, which punctures the usual rubbishy comments.  He is loathed by the standard clientele, and I suspect he is not moderated out . . . because his is a token presence to illustrate the respectabiity & toleration of the WUWT website!)

    In short, WUWT is an echo-chamber for the Angries, the extremists, and the deluded.  Comments tend to be repetitious ventings.  But the sheer number of these, is part of what keeps the site ranking high enough to attract advertising dollars.  Does the WUWT ranking intimidate politicians into thinking there's a lot of Denialists around?  I don't know.

    My own interest in the WUWT website, is to observe the ways that some intelligent minds engage in rampant Motivated Reasoning.  And to a smaller extent, to keep in touch with the Dreck  found in the murky depths.  Know thine enemy!

    Sorry, Nigelj, for my own lengthy vent of a post ~ but I hope it provided some "edutainment".

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  7. Eclectic, don't apologise. I'm always a bit interested in such things possibly because I almost did a degree in psychology. And it would be interesting to know how much your slithering octapus of WUWT has to do with the Kochtapus and how intimate the relationship is, if any. I rarely bother with WUWT, too much same old same old.

    Anyway, to get to the point and to finish the ghastly business off, the following blog by one Russel Seitz is a sort of satirical take on WUWT for anyone interested:

    But  as you say we are straying a bit off topic so I will leave it there.

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  8. It's a little hard to compare Skeptical Science with WUWT without comparing how traffic is acquired. The two sites serve different roles and it's possible that difference is reflected in acquistion numbers. 

    For our case we have the necessary data and those statistics suggest that Skeptical Science serves a role a little along the lines of a specialized encyclopedia, our roster of core content* being articles people "look up" via search. The analogy extends in that our rebuttal/debunking articles are supported with literature citations of peer-reviewed, published scientific researc results, similar to aticles in a mainstream specialist encyclopedia.

    So, we feel good about the utility role played by Skeptical Science. 

    Another consistent signal from our statistics is that particularly when climate science becomes more topical as a political matter, inquiries landing at our articles increase. 2017 reflected this strongly as policy implications of the change in adminstration became clear. It's encouraging to see folks performing due diligence on what they're told.

    *Arrivals to core content consisting of debunking/rebuttal articles tower over visits to Skeptical Science blog entries.

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  9. I quite like the summaries made about Skeptical Science and WUWT on the helpful website Media Bias Fact Check:



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  10. I agree SkSc and WUWT mostly have quite different objectives, but there's another thing. At the risk of generalising websites like WUWT make a lot of use of clickbait, as in making provocative or outrageous statements, which of course attract attention like a magnet. SkSc is more formal and restrained in the normal scientific tradition.Personally I find clickbait annoying, but there is the risk that if articles and their headlines  are too dry and restrained nobody will read them.

    How do you resolve the dilemma? Or does dry and boring win in the end? Or is there a middle ground?

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  11. This OP and the comments are indeed interesting. However, I do not believe that it is possible to know if the popularity of a website, or any specific pages of a website, relates to increased acceptance or belief of what is being presented there.

    Sites like SkS try to expand awareness and improve understanding regarding climate science. Sites like WUWT make-up Fictions that are hoped to be popular distractions from the expanded awareness and improving understanding of Climate Science and the related required corrections of developed human activity.

    What is clear is - to paraphrase something said during the first day of Trump impeachment public hearings - Principled Promotion of expanded awareness and improved understanding (what sites like SkS do) is almost certain to piss off people who want others to continue to believe Fictions that are unsustainable when subjected to reasoned evaluations based on the expanded awareness and improved understanding (those Fiction lovers hope for prolonged popularity of sites like WUWT).

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  12. nigelj@10:

    Non-Fiction can never have the type of Passion-Induced Appeal of Fiction.

    People who are passionate about Non-Fiction are stuck with the constraints of Non-Fiction and the related constant expansion of awareness and improvement of understanding (and acceptance of correction) that is part of that passionate pursuit.

    Fiction lovers are unrestricted regarding the story they tell or like, and seldom have to accept reasons to change a story they have become fond of believing.

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