2016 in Review: a recap of what happened at Skeptical Science

Considering what all our team of volunteers managed to get done in 2015 we didn't really go into 2016 with the expectation to "beat" it as far as productivity goes. But, as it turned out, this review article for 2016 is about the same length as last year's so we at least haven't taken a sabbatical! As this post is quite long, you can jump to the different sections via the following links:

Scholarly Publications and books

Other publications and activities

Our MOOC Denial101x

Conferences and presentations

Social Media and some homepage stats


Scholarly Publications and books

thesisOn August 3 SkS founder John Cook received notification that his PhD thesis had been accepted without revision, so he's now Dr. John Cook (but I have a hunch that he still prefers to be called John, at least by his friends and colleagues!). You can download his thesis, aptly titled "Closing the “consensus gap” by communicating the scientific consensus on climate change and countering misinformation” from SkS. It consists of 9 papers published in peer reviewed journals and other publications, the different chapters woven together into a single document by introductory comments. It makes for quite an interesting read! Congratulations to John for this accomplishment!

John co-authored the paper "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism" with Stephan Lewandowsky and Elisabeth Loyd. The three authors look at both rhetorical and scientific arguments put out by deniers and list examples of where these various arguments contradict each other as outlined in Graham Readfearn's explainer.

In October, John's in-depth article "Countering Climate Science Denial and Communicating Scientific Consensus" was published online in the Climate Science Oxford Research Enyclopedias from where it can also be downloaded as a PDF document.

Mark Richardson, Kevin Cowtan and Martin Stolpe from the SkS-team  published "Reconciled climate response estimates from climate models and the energy budget of Earth" in Nature Climate Change with Ed Hawkins as another co-author. You can read more about this paper on Kevin's University of York webpage, where he published a background article.

Robert Way published "Underestimated warming of northern Canada in the Berkeley Earth temperature product" in the International Journal of Climatology with co-authors Frank Oliva and Andre Viau from the University of Ottawa.

ExaminingFactsTogether with Daniel Bedford, John published the textbook "Climate Change: Examining the Facts". From the description:

"Climate change is one of the most controversial and misunderstood issues of the 21st century. This book provides a clear understanding of the issue by presenting scientific facts to refute falsehoods and misinformation?and to confirm the validity of other assertions.

Is public understanding of global warming suffering from politically biased news coverage? Is it true that the global scientific community has not reached a consensus on whether humans are causing climate change? This important book addresses these questions and many more about global warming, identifying common claims about climate change and using quantifiable, evidence-based information to examine their veracity." 

2016 saw continued interest in our consensus study (Cook et al. 2013) with the paper surpassing half a million downloads on ERL's website in early summer. As of this writing, the paper still gets downloaded about 2,000 times per week and currently stands at 570,000+ downloads from ERL, making it the most viewed paper in all of the journals published by the Institute of Physics (IOP). It also gets "talked about" on the net a lot as indicated by Altimetric.

In December, Cook et al. (2013) was included as one of the influential papers in ERL's special collection to celebrate its 10th anniversary publishing peer-reviewed scientific papers. ERL celebrated its anniversary with a reception at this year's AGU:


As a reaction to continued attacks on our paper - and especially a published comment by Richard Tol - we collaborated with the authors of 6 other consensus studies and published "Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming" in April (Cook et al. 2016). Both of our consensus papers have been consistently listed among the top 3 of ERL's most viewed papers since then and "Consensus on consensus" just passed 100,000 downloads sometime during the last week of 2016.


Several more publications are currently in the works and we’ll let you know about them once they’ve been published.

Other publications, activities and tools worth highlighting

We published more than 350 blog posts on Skeptical Science of which around 120 were articles written by 16 SkS-authors, John Hartz put together more than 100 weekly digests and news roundups and about 140 articles were reposted from elsewhere.

The Skeptical Science translator team collaborated with the authors of The Uncertainty Handbook from the University of Bristol and Climate Outreach (former COIN) to create German, Indonesian and Portuguese translations of this very helpful booklet.

In October, John was asked by Leonardo DiCaprio's Before the Flood team to provide some debunkings of often repeated climate myths for their website. You can find the links via "Debunking climate myths with Leonardo DiCaprio's Before the Flood".

Members of the SkS-Team also regularly published articles in various other outlets:

Material from and links to Skeptical Science also find their way into a wide variety of output, from University Curriculum, MOOCs, Textbooks, Scholarly Papers, Public Talks to Radio & TV,  not to mention newspapers and blogs. For a sample, check out our Republisher Page.

Our MOOC Denial101x - Making sense of climate science denial


Our MOOC Denial101x - Making sense of climate science denial, co-produced with the University of Queensland was offered throughout the year both as self-paced and paced versions, so that it's basically available all the time in one of these formats. You can also watch all the lectures and interviews on YouTube or in a Wakelet collection if you don’t want to take the MOOC itself (but you’ll lose out on many interactive activities, quizzes and forum discussions then!).

On July 18, edX announced that Denial101x made their list of 11 finalists for their very first edX-Prize. The winner was announced at their Global Forum held in Paris at The Sorbonne on November, 15 and the prize went to Arno Smets and his MOOC on solar energy.

Watch this video to get an idea what Denial101x is about:

Conferences and presentations

John Cook was invited to attend the IPCC Expert Meeting on Communication held in Oslo on February 9 and 10 where he did a presentation about The role of misinformation in undermining IPCC science and how to neutralize it (the video of his talk is available on Youtube). The IPCC also produced a full report about the meeting which includes mentions of John's contributions on pages 29 to 32.

John held several presentations and workshops throughout the year:

These and many older presentations are available on our Public Talks page.


The highlight for our team was this year's Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco held from December 12 to 16 in the Moscone Center. After last year's rather small SkS-team, there were about a dozen team members presenting and participitating this year. You can read more about the meeting in this recently published article: Skeptical Science at AGU 2016: a recap.

Social Media and some homepage stats


In the summer, our Facebook page passed 175,000 likes. It has been very active since then and is likely to pass a new milestone of 200,000 net "Likes" sometime in the first quarter of 2017. The SkS Facebook page provides breaking news and timely information about climate-related matters from around the world. Its format allows readers to comment on and discuss each post, albeit in a more abbreviated form than the comment threads on the SkS website. John Hartz and John Cook create the bulk of the FB posts and other members of the SkS team respond to questions submitted by readers on a regular basis.

On Twitter we have 13,600+ followers, up by about 2,000 compared to a year ago (so there’s still lots of room for improvement compared to Facebook!).

Since May 2014 we've been collecting our own site-statistics and we get between 250,000 and 477,000 unique visitors per month, with December 2016 setting a new "record" with more than 477,000 - but just squeezing by November which had seen 476,000+. It might just be one of those spurious correlations, but we have a hunch that a certain election-result had something to do with that uptick! By far the most traffic originates in the United States with other English speaking countries following suit. This year, Germany makes it to the 6th place as the first of many non-English speaking countries from where people visit our website.

Most visitors find our content via search enginges like Google, Bing and Yahoo looking for 40,000+ different keywords and 100,000+ keyphrases. We made a wor(l)d cloud out of the most often used words in those searches:

SkS word cloudAs far as downloads go, The Debunking Handbook gets downloaded more than 60,000 times per year in its English original and the handbook's translations also see quite a lot of interest, with 4,700+ for Spanish, 3,800 for German and almost 2,000 for Swedish. All versions taken together, the Handbook accounts for the bulk of all downloads with over 80,000 of them. The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism makes it to the 2nd place with more than 20,000 downloads for all versions.


In May we were pleasantly suprised when the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) - a big non-profit organisation supporting teachers in the U.S. who want to teach evolution and climate science without interference from religious or political groups - named Skeptical Science as one of this year's recipients of their Friend of the Planet Awards. The other recipients are Katharine Hayhoe for her work as an atmospheric scientist and John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli for their 97%-blog at The Guardian. So, Dana got "double-dippings"!

It was decided that the awards would be presented at the "SkS-Shindig", held on Monday evening, Dec. 12 when those from the SkS-team attending AGU's Fall meeting came together with many others interested in climate science. All the award's recipients were there and at around 8pm Ann Reid from NCSE started the proceedings and soon after all four recipients held their awards in their hands:

NCSE-Friend-of-Planet-AwardsFrom the left: John Cook, Katharine Hayhoe, Dana Nuccitelli, Ann Reid, John Abraham (photo: )

As about a dozen folks from the SkS- and Denial101x-team were at the shindig we used the opportunity to also get a group picture:


From the left: Mark Richardson, Howard Lee, John Mashey, Collin Maessen, John Cook, Baerbel Winkler, Peter Jacobs, Rob Honeycutt, Sarah Green, Dana Nuccitelli, Keah Schuenemann, Dan Bedford

What will 2017 bring for Skeptical Science (and climate science in general)?

Just like you, we don't have a crystal ball to look into the future. But one big change will obviously be that John starts his new job at GMU's Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) around the time Donald Trump becomes President of the United States. So, at least two things are fairly certain: John will have his work cut out for him and the work we are doing as a team will become even more important! On top of that, we'll also have to come up with something to celebrate Skeptical Science's 10th anniversary in the summer of 2017.

Onwards and upwards!

Posted by BaerbelW on Saturday, 31 December, 2016

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