Monday, 12 August 2013

Anthony Watts calls inhomogeneity in his web traffic a success

[UPDATE. Dec. 2013. The summary of 2013 of WUWT has just been released and the number of pageviews of WUWT has dropped. In 2012 WUWT had 36 million page views, in 2013 only 35 million. Not a large drop, but a good beginning. And it should be noted that a constant readership leads to reductions in ranking as the internet is still growing fast. Thus these number are a clear contrast to the increases in ranking that Anthony Watts announced below.

This confirms that WUWT does not only gives bad information on climate science. Let's hope more people will realize how unreliable WUWT is and start reading real science blogs.]


Anthony Watts pretends to be beside himself with joy. WUWT has an enormous increase in traffic!! In his post Announcement: WUWT success earns an invitation to “Enterprise” he writes: "You are probably aware of the ongoing improvements to WUWT I’ve made. They seem to be paying off. Lately, things have been looking up for WUWT:" and shows this graph.

With such an increase in the quantity of readers, why care about quality? Thus suddenly it is no longer a problem that Wotts Up With That Blog (now called: And Then There's Physics) clarifies the serious errors on WUWT daily.


The WUWT regulars are cheering.
JimS: Congrats, Anthony Watts. I see that your blog stats have arisen to the level that the AGW alarmists wished the temperatures would also arise to confirming their folly.
John Whitman: The extraordinary ranking of your venue is the best kind of positive energy feedback loop to increase stimulation of critical independent thinkers in every country. You and everyone of them can draw rejuvenating intellectual energy from it. Wow.
George Lawson: The AGW crowd will see this as another nail in their coffin! Almost as painful as this year’s Arctic ice melt.
Stephen Brown: Congratulations! I bet that the rise and rise of WUWT is causing a certain amount of underwear wadding amongst the Warmistas!


But is the number of WUWT readers really increasing?

A first indication that this is not the case, is that Anthony Watts did not really write it explicitly. His post and the plot certainly suggest it and he did not correct the people commenting that clearly thought so, but Watts did not explicitly write so. That should make one suspicious.

A second indication is that Watts is very touchy about it. When Collin Maessen, as someone working in IT, pointed out to Watts on Twitter that, Alexa is not very reliable, the response is that Watts blocks Maessen on Twitter.

Scientific method

That is all just psychology, no more than an initial suspicion. That is also part of the job, a good scientist needs to have a good intuition which problems are interesting. But in the end you need evidence.

Had I been a fake sceptic, I would have called this the hockey stick hoax or TonyGate. Made a lot of noise, loudly demanded the log files of WUWT, insist that the software of Alexa be audited, create a lot of suspicion. That will not proof much, but something will stick. In the comments the angry crowd would call Watts & Co. a criminal organisation, no moderation needed. The final nail in the coffin of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change.

But I an a natural scientist. So let's just have a more detailed look at the Alexa data and search for further evidence. Then write it up clearly, so that everyone can judge the evidence and weigh this evidence against that presented by Watts. Then Watts and everyone else could investigate our evidence, search for new evidence, or present new evidence, such as the WUWT log files. If that does not happen, then the science is settled for now, and we know that Watts again intentionally produced a piece of misinformation.


Alexa rank

Let's first look at the data of Alexa, but now the full period.

The upward jump in November 2009 was ClimateGate. The time that Anthony Watts conveniently forgot that conservatives were supposed to have moral values, that citizens pride themselves on their manners. While normally conservatives find the distinction barbarism and civilization important (Arnold Kling at Econtalk), this time Anthony Watts decided to build his fame on criminals that invaded the privacy of climate scientists for political aims.

After this peak, the rank is more or less stable and starts to decline beginning 2012. I thought this was interested an wrote a post about this the 5th of May. Even more interesting is that this decline seems to affect all major "sceptic" blogs.

(Did you notice the cherry picking of Watts in the first picture, starting in 2013 not to show the decline in 2012?)

WUWT Alexa toolbar

Then on the 20th of May 2013, WUWT introduced the WUWT Alexa toolbar, which coincides with the increase in Alexa ranking.

This toolbar for your webbrowser continually keeps you up to date on WUWT, but also sends all the home pages and advertisements you see and your search terms back to Alexa. That way they can make the above graphs and make money selling this information.

Anthony Watts does not like me calling this toolbar a spybar. His first argument for it not being a spybar is that that I would not call it so if it were a Skeptical Science spybar. Impeccable logic. The second impressive argument it is not a spybar is because Alexa says so. Or as Sou from HotWhopper commented:
"I particularly like the "it's not spyware because somewhere if you look hard enough we tell you that we are spying on you"."
But back to the data. Is it credible that WUWT has more readers now than during ClimateGate? Especially, as this time there is no special reason to expect such a huge increase in the readership?

It would be more logic, if Alexa simply records more readers at WUWT due to the Alexa toolbar. This is one way for them to reward bloggers for using the Alexa toolbar to keep contact with their readers and not one of the many other toolbars.

Number of comments

If there were such a huge recent increase in WUWT readers, you would also expect an increase in the number of comments. However, none is seen.

Comments are just a proxy for readers, naturally. However, during ClimateGate in December 2009, there was not only an increase in readers, but the number of comments was also twice as high. There thus seems to be a relation.

Quantcast visitors

What do independent sources say? For example Quantcast, another company that collects traffic information to optimize online marketing. Below you can find the figure for unique visitors to WUWT.

Quantcast does not show any increases in the last few months. The same graphs for number of people, number of visits and number of page views are just as flat. The data of Quantcast is probably more reliable as Alexa as it is directly measured via javascript or a pixel image on every WUWT page (look in the html source code for wpcomQuantcastData).

Sitemeter visits and pageviews

Another likely highly reliable source is the Sitemeter counter in the right sidebar of WUWT. It only shows data for the last year and, again, is completely flat.

The constant numbers of Quantcast and Sitemeter fit to the slow reductions in ranking in Alexa, as the size of the internet is continually increasing. The Red Queen phenomenon, you have to grow to stay up in the rat race.


There seems to be overwhelming evidence that the number of readers of WUWT has not made a mysterious jump lately.

Why make a fuss about this? Isn't this a minor point? Yes, it is, but that exactly makes it interesting. Like a laboratory experiment in physics, designed to be as simple as possible to isolated the effect you are interested in.

The climate system and climate science are very complex and it is often hard to judge who is right. But here everyone can clearly see that Anthony Watts tried to give the wrong impression. No special knowledge or skills are needed to see this.

Even I mainly judge the quality of WUWT based on the posts on homogenization or the political situation in Germany. These are the topics where I am knowledgeable and can clearly and without any reservation say: WUWT is misinforming its readers. I am less knowledgeable on other climatic topics, but see no reason why the information on other topics should be better.

Watts' Alexa peak is a litmus test for the credibility of WUWT. Please stop reading that nonsense!

Are those the famous conservative family values?

We can disagree about the magnitude of the matter and the appropriate policy response. But I am allergic to people lying. We should tackle this problem based on the evidence we have.

Stop lying to me, the world and your friends!

[UPDATE: citizenschallenge writes at Real Sceptic:
OK, so the statistics are well over my head,
but I do find it ironic that Watts who’s never seen a climate statistic he trusts –
thinks that a counter that needs many adjustments:
“Alexa’s ranking methodology corrects for a large number of potential biases in our sample and calculates the ranks accordingly. We normalize based on the geographic location of site visitors. We correct for biases in the demographic distribution of site visitors. We correct for potential biases in the data collected from all the various browser extensions to better represent those types of site visitors who might not be in Alexa’s measurement panel.”

and that even warn: “However, biases still exist.” Is just fine.

No matter, if it tells Watts’ what he wants to hear, it’s accepted as fact with amazing alacrity.

Related information

If you are also interested in the scientific errors at WUWT, these resources are great: Wott's Up With That? (Now: And Then There is Physics), Hotwhopper and Wotts Up With That Blog regularly explain WUWT's errors. General climate sites that regularly have to correct WUWT madness are: Open Mind, RealClimate, ThinkClimate and SkepticalScience. A list with blogs by climate scientists can be found at Doug McNeall's blog.

Related posts

Christians on the climate consensus
Christian world wide see the preservation of the creation an important duty for Christians.
The age of Climategate is almost over
Shows that the number of readers of WUWT and climate audit is going down and that the number of comments at WUWT is down by 100 comments a day.
Decline in the number of climate "sceptics", reactions and new evidence
Shows that climate science blogs have a stable readership, that the number of Google searches for climate sceptics terms is down and for climate science terms is stable and finally that opinion polls show that more and more people accept the basic science.
Readership of all major "sceptic" blogs is going down
No only the ranking of WUWT is going down, but all major climate ostrich blogs are declining.


Wotts Up With That Blog said...

Interesting post. Does seem that Anthony is more interested in appearing to have lots of readers than in having scientifically credible posts. As others have already said, there's a difference between quantity and quality.

Victor Venema said...

Wotts, that's right.

Watts seems to find his ranking extremely important. If you just google the number of posts that mention Alexa. It is huge.

He might be right to focus on that. It gives him "credibility" with the media.

The article of ClimateProgress linked above makes a good case that they are actually the largest climate blog.

Sou said...

Victor, good catch.

I see you've been keeping track of the number of comments on WUWT. Interesting. I was going to have a shot at that myself because it did seem that they are on the decline, but figured it was too much like hard work :)

Just the same, 1.5 million plus visits a month recorded by site meter is an awful lot. However I notice that site meter records the average visit duration at less than 30 seconds. Visitors take one look and leave quickly!! (Actually, I reckon it just means that a lot of the recorded visits has to be bots.)

Whatever - it can't be argued that WUWT isn't popular. That's why it seems worth the effort to expose the silliness.

Victor Venema said...

Sou, yes 10k readers per post is more than I get. :-) But then I also have another strategy when it comes to quality.

It is somehow popular and your work is thus important. However, Climate Progress might be the most popular. And Anthony Watts feels a need to hide the decline in ranking. Which is a start.

I am not sure whether estimates of visit duration are reliable. If you just read one page or go to the first page and open 10 pages in your tabs to read later and afterwards none any more, the estimate may well be that you visited just a few seconds. But maybe someone more knowledgeable can correct me.

TomF said...

AW: "ongoing improvements to WUWT"

Hopefully the next improvement will be the quality of the posts. For example, reading them before posting them twice. But probably not.

Victor Venema said...

Tom, another post in the category please-read-before-publishing is the one claiming that ice cores from Greenland can not be older than 650 years, it is not called Greenland for nothing.

As Stoat comments: Too stupid even for WUWT eventually.

The error in the last IPCC report on the glaciers in the Himalayas is about the same stupidity level. However, in these reports such glitches are rare, at WUWT we see them regularly.

We should have a list with WUWT classics.

Victor Venema said...

Via Twitter:

Jan Paul van Soest ‏@janpaulvansoest

Whatever Anthony Watts @wattsupwiththat writes, he misinforms. Even about his own blog.

Anonymous said...

That punch must hurt!

Great job. Thanks.

Mr Wilkins said...


This whole post just seems like a bad case of sour grapes. WUWT gets about 500 comments per day (according to the graph you posted). That's rather good, if you ask me.

How many visitors do you get at your site?



Victor Venema said...

Dear Andy Wilkins, welcome at my little blog.

I know, my blog has less readers as WUWT comments. That is also the reason I write such posts and comment on the inaccuracies of WUWT. Once WUWT has the same size as my blog, this task is no longer necessary.

As you seem to be a fan of WUWT, may I ask you if you do not mind being lied to?

William Connolley said...

You might also like

Victor Venema said...

Good idea, have added the link to the list with recommended reading. Quite impressive how wrong Alexa can be. He also explains that the Alexa toolbar is an important if not the main reason, which the above illustrates.