Criminals broke into the CRU backup servers and stole and published their email correspondence. What was Phil Jones' crime? The reason why manners and constitutional rights are not important? The reason to damage his professional network? He is a climate scientist!
According to Watts and co the emails showed deliberate deception. However, there have been several investigations into Climategate, none of which found evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct. It would thus be appropriate to rename the Climategate to Scepticgate. And it is a good sign that this post-normal age is (almost) over and the number of visitors to WUWT is going back to the level before Climategate.
Since the beginning of 2012, the number of readers of WUWT is in a steady decline. It is interesting coincidence that I started commenting once in a while since February 2012. Unfortunately for the narcissistic part of my personality: correlation is not causation.
The peak in mid 2012 is Anthony Watts first failed attempt in writing a scientific study.
According to WUWT Year in review (Wordpress statistics), WUWT was viewed about 31,000,000 times in 2011 and 36,000,000 times in 2012. However, a large part of the visitors of my blog are robots and that problem is worse here as for my little read German language blog. Alexa more likely only counts real visitors.
Anthony Watts is not the only one feeding on the criminals that broken in the the email servers. As you can see below, also Climate Audit, the blog of Steve McIntyre gained a lot of attention after the theft. Attention that had fortunately disappeared almost completely. No wonder his motivation is dwindling.
One can see that McIntyre really needed the fabricated scandal this March on the Marcott et al. (2013) paper with a multi-proxy global temperature reconstruction for the entire Holocene. Marcott et al. had written in their paper that the results for the 20th century were not robust. Thus McIntryre made a "scandal" out of a tick in the 20th century caused by edge effects and proxy dropout (less data for recent times). (For those interested, the answer of the authors can be found at RealClimate.)
Native scepticsThe data from Alexa tells us something about the readers. What about the native sceptics? The ones writing thank-yous to Watts for posting about another "nail in the coffin of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change". (With all that metal, you probably need a forklift for the burial by now.)
As far as I remember, I have never seen a climate "sceptic" that admitted having made an error or that a WUWT post was wrong. When I am commenting on WUWT I have to remind myself that it is not futile. That while you will never convince the regulars no matter how clearly the post misinforms (such as clear cases of misquotations). My comments are aimed at new and casual readers, the ones Alexa shows are leaving.
Below you can find a graph with the number of comments. To my surprise, even the number of comments is decreasing. Over the period of interest by about 100 comments a day. Thus apparently, while they will not admit being wrong in a discussion, it is actually possible to convince these people that WUWT lacks credibility.
I have the feeling that the tone on WUWT is getting more and more grim and I am not the only one. Maybe the moderates are leaving. Are there automatic text analysis tools with which you could study this change of atmosphere?
Climate discussionsScientist, normal citizen and real climate sceptics, the ones without the scare quotes, should welcome the disappearance of WUWT. With all the nonsense and misinformation published there, it is hard to find the valid points of criticism. I have said more often that if someone will find a problem in climate science, it will be a scientist and not this hopeless bunch. Without WUWT and co, it would become more likely that the blogosphere will contribute.
For example, in all the commotion around the game-changing manuscript of Anthony Watts, the second game-changing study of the month was not discussed as much as would have been warranted. This smart study by McNider and colleagues suggested that the observed trend in the minimum temperature at night could also partially be due to a change in the temperature profile of the nocturnal stable boundary layer. I would love to see more research in this direction. The paper is based on boundary layer theory. My master supervisor was fond of saying that this theory can only be tested accurately in three places in the world as it is only valid for flat and uniform terrain. Thus it would be great to see some empirical studies into this matter, to see whether the idea also holds for more realistic measuring conditions.
Another question where we can have a productive scientific debate is around climatic changes in weather variability. It is often claimed that the weather variability is increasing and that consequently what used to be extreme weather will become common. In as far as extreme weather is influence by the mean temperature, I expect very hot weather to become more common. However, I am not yet convinced that we can state this because the variability around the mean is becoming larger and that we can thus also attribute cold extremes to global warming. In my opinion, the quality of daily data has not been sufficiently studied for robust statements.
A considerable part of the budget for climate research goes to climate change impact studies, because governments need advice to protect the population. For many impacts you need spatially (and temporally) highly resolved data and I personally only trust global climate models with respect to global mean and maybe continental mean properties. To increase the spatial and temporal resolution of the data, various so-called downscaling techniques are used. Scientists use statistical downscaling methods by comparing global model runs with observed data or drive higher resolution local climate models by the global models. This makes the data more useful, but if the large-scale circulation in the global climate model is wrong, for example because the ice cover of the Arctic is not modelled right, you cannot solve this by adding more detail.
While I have no doubt the people working on this are doing their best, I worry that many impact studies have larger (structural) uncertainties as expected by the users of the information. On the other hand, I understand the need of the governments for some guidance for adaptation policies and these studies are likely more predictive as throwing a dice and in this sense valuable. Thus not working on climate impacts is also no option.
Many I should add for the "sceptics", the ones which need the scare quotes: uncertainty does not mean that there will be no impacts, uncertainties goes both ways. Furthermore, more uncertainty means that adaptation is more difficult and more costly (you have to prepare for more possibilities) and large uncertainty is thus an argument for not messing with the climate in the first place (mitigation).
Above I was only discussing the natural science part of climate impact studies. However, the changing climate only adds an additional stressor to a system. Whether this leads to a catastrophe, will depend on interactions with other stressors, how well we prepared for the problem and how we respond. Maybe it is my bias as a natural scientist, but I feel that the latter human part of the predicting the impacts is nearly impossible to solve.
And those were just three topics that jumped to mind. There are many, many more problems we could hold civilized discussions about. The demise of WUWT and co would make these discussions more intelligent and fruitful. Some time ago, I was discussing homogenization (as always) with the people at The Blackboard. A totally different atmosphere, while some of the regulars of WUWT were also there, many people at The Blackboard were interested in understanding the problems. If you are a real sceptic and you are looking for a new home, why not have a look. I love real sceptics and hope that soon that word regains its original meaning again.
UPDATE, 20th May 2013: Isn't is ironic? Or maybe convenient? WUWT now has a toolbar with a little help from Alexa. Let's see if that increases the counts. Anthony Watts writes:
The other value to this toolbar is that it helps Alexa get accurate data on WUWT traffic and reach, so you’d be helping WUWT by installing it and using it.
Further readingMy next post, Decline of the climate "sceptical" community, reactions and new evidence, discusses some of the reactions to this post and provides several new lines of evidence that more and more people are fed up with Anthony Watts lying circus.
My previous posts about misinformation on WUWT are:
- Blog review of the Watts et al. (2012) manuscript on surface temperature trends
- No trend in global water vapor, another WUWT fail
- Investigation of methods for hydroclimatic data homogenization
With 5 posts a day, it is impossible to discover the errors in every post, not even Anthony Watts can. Still if you doubt about some aspect of a WUWT post, here are some resources where you get inspiration for finding the problem. Currently, Hotwhopper is very active. Other sites specialising on WUWT are: Wott's Up With That? and What's Up With That Watts? General climate sites that are regularly have to correct WUWT madness are: Open Mind, RealClimate and SkepticalScience.