Friday 10 May 2013

Decline in the number of climate "sceptics", reactions and new evidence

My last post showing that the number of readers of Watts Up With That and Climate Audit are declining according to Alexa (social bookmarking) has provoked some interesting reactions. A little research suggests that the response post by Tom Nelson: Too funny: As global warming and Al Gore fall off the general public's radar, cherry-pickin' warmist David Appell argues that WUWT is "Going Gently Into That Good Night", could be a boomerang and another sign of the decline. More on that and two more indications that climate change ostriches are on their way back.

Public interest in climate change

An anonymous reader had the same idea as Tom Nelson, but did not write a mocking post, but politely asked:
"how do you know it is not a general diminution of interest in climate change?".
That is naturally possible and hard to check without access to the statistics of all climate related blogs and news pages. However, as you can see below, the number of readers of SkepticalScience and RealClimate seem to be stable according to Alexa. This suggests that the decline is not general, but specific to the "sceptic" community.

Dana1981 (a nick often used by Dana Nuccitelli of Skeptical Science) responded to the stable readership of SkS and RC:
"I have a hunch that Skeptical Science is going to have a big jump in traffic in the near future."
My first guess was that Skeptical Science is negotiating a merger with WUWT.

Another guess could be that Skeptical Science has hacked the computer of Anthony Watts and stole his correspondence with all the other main "sceptic" bloggers, where they make fun of their gullible readers.

Does anyone have a better idea? I will be waiting for the day that Skeptical Science will halt their blog for two days before they reveal the big surprise.

Tom Nelson attributed the decline to a decrease of interest in climate by the general public. Too funny: As global warming and Al Gore fall off the general public's radar, cherry-pickin' warmist David Appell argues that WUWT is "Going Gently Into That Good Night"

The title and the figure below are basically Nelson's entire post. The figure shows how often a search term is typed into Google globally over the last few years. The big peak in 2007 is likely due to the publication of the last IPCC report. The upcoming IPCC report this autumn could thus be the reason, why Dana1981 expects more readers soon; see sidebar.

UPDATE: Dana1981 was probably talking about Skeptical Science Study Finds 97% Consensus on Human-Caused Global Warming in the Peer-Reviewed Literature, which is generating a lot of press attention.

Interesting what the first two terms are, a climate "sceptic" is thinking of with respect to climate. Out of curiosity, I also looked at the Google trend for "climate change", see below. Looks as if the interest in "climate change" is as stable as the readership of SkS and RC.

Thus I asked Tom Nelson why he preferred the term "global warming" over "climate change", but that comment made 3 days ago did not yet pass moderation.

After visiting the Web of Science (a database with scientific articles), it became clear why my first intuition was to try "climate change". There are 325,829 articles with this term, whereas there are "only" 71,052 articles on "global warming". The same numbers for Google Scholar are: 1,560,000 (climate change) and 914,000 (global warming). Scientists seem to prefer climate change nowadays. (I would personally probably use "global warming" when I want to emphasis that a statement is mainly about temperature and otherwise use the more encompassing term "climate change".)

A web search using Google for these terms restricted to the main blogs shows a similar pattern, that the climate "sceptics" use the term "global warming" more and the science blogs the term "climate change". The difference is not large, though.

Interesting is that Google trends shows that searches with "global warming" and the terms more typical for "sceptics" such as conspiracy, controversy, doesn't exist, fake, is fake, myth, natural, skeptics, is not real, junk science, lies, not real, are going down. Whereas searches for "climate change" and more science oriented key words such as, articles, causes, adaptation, and agriculture, data, education, effects, for kids, health, impacts, jobs, journal, lesson plans middle school mitigation, predictions, research, science, statistics, vulnerability are either stable or are even going up.

In the light of all the other evidence, the decline in the "global warming" searches could thus be interpreted as another indication that it is the interest in the "sceptics" that is dwindling and not the interest in climate change in general.

The minute peak for "climategate" is also interesting. The "sceptics" seem to be isolated in their view that this was an enormous scandal.

Thank you, Tom Nelson, for reminding me of this great information resource!

Big is beautiful?

On Quark Soup by David Appell, Les Johnson notes that my blog and Quark Soup are read less than WUWT. As if that would change the argument.

Not only our little blogs, also Skeptical Science and RealClimate are read much less than WUWT. The simple explanation is likely that for non-libertarians there is no special need to read "climate" blogs, they have no problems with cognitive dissonance, they can just read the newspaper without getting high blood pressure.

My main reason to blog is that it help me order my thoughts. Before blogging, I would write the occasional essay for my homepage, but never got much feedback from that. The nice thing of blogging is that it is easy to comment and in this way you get more feedback, some of which is helpful in developing your thoughts.

Now that I do have more readers than I ever expected, I once in a while also write a post because I think others may be interested, such as the post on the time of observation bias and its correction in homogenization. I could not find good free information on that topic. The post statistical homogenization for dummies also falls in this category. And I have started writing posts to make my articles more visible.

If I were interested in getting as much readers as possible, I would not blog about arcane topics such as future research on the homogenization of daily datasets (post1, post2), which only a minimal number of people will appreciate.

Hard evidence?

Freely translated: Hard numerical evidence: climate denial is on its way back, the bosh blogs are loosing ground.

As a scientist I am probably indoctrinated to use the term "hard evidence" a bit more carefully as the general public. It is possible that the community using Alexa is more turned off by "sceptical" nonsense as the general public. Thus there could be a bias in the Alexa data. And there is conflicting evidence in the number of readers WUWT itself reports. I have noticed for my own blog that almost half of the "readers" come in spikes and often seem to visit only to leave the URL in the statistics, hoping that I will click on the link to see who is linking to me. This seems to be getting worse as my blog gets better known. The number of readers WUWT itself reports are thus likely not very reliable.

It is a pity we cannot harass the climate sceptics blogs back with Freedom of Information Act requests for their data.

Further indications

Anthony Watts himself provides a fourth tentative indication that the activism is declining. He wrote this week:
I don’t normally do mid week open threads, but I’ve not found much of interest to write about tonight, and story submissions have been a dry hole lately.
UPDATE: Watts now wrote that the contributions were not low, but had landed in his SPAM folder. Very fitting.

More on the opinion poll

To anticipate a "sceptic" objection: "Hey man, you cannot read, the PEW poll clearly states the the public does not see climate change as a priority for this year." That is the main problem of gradual global phenomena such as climate change. Because the problem builds up slowly and every country contributes only a small part, it is never a short term priority for a nation. That is also why politicians came up with the arbitrary 2°C limit. That helps to build up political pressure to do something on the "shorter term". It would still be smart to do something about climate change in the long term; if you average over a longer period and all nations, those short term local priorities become a lot less important.

As another aside. While the "sceptics" have problem with scientists broadly agreeing on basic facts such as that the Earth is warming, I found the percentage of the public without opinion surprisingly low. Whereas opinions are very mixed: 87% of the Democrats see solid evidence for warming, and 50% of the Republicans see no evidence, almost no one sees mixed evidence or doesn't know (Rep: 7%, Dem: 3%). It is strange that ideology determines the strength of the evidence, but if that happens you would expect to see such differences for difficult topics where many people have no idea what is right, wouldn't you?
All the evidence also fits to the general change in the public opinion in the USA. In the latest PEW poll of March 2013, nearly seven-in-ten Americans say they believe there is solid evidence of global warming. This number is increasing since 2009.

You could also see the reduction in the number of readers and especially of the number of people commenting as a sign of a diminishing morale among climate science deniers? I think that the opinion polls are an indication that the reason is more like a change in public opinion.

FiveFour independent lines of evidence

We now have five four lines of evidence for a decline of the "sceptic" community: the number of readers according to Alexa, the number of comments at WUWT and, thanks to Tom Nelson, the number of Google searches for "global warming", Anthony Watts himself and opinion polls on climate change. Combined all the evidence is quite persuasive.

I am looking forward to a more fruitful and mature climate debate in future.

Further reading

My previous posts about misinformation on WUWT are:

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?, Whats Up With That Blog, VVatts 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.


  1. Google trends also shows maps. The google searches of the climate sceptics come from the USA, UK and Australia. What is wrong with those countries?

  2. What's wrong with those countries? They are the leaders on this topic, the rest of the world follows.



    1. Klem, with respect to science in general the USA is clearly leading.

      When it comes to meteorology and climatology, I would estimate that the situation is quite balanced between the US and Europe.

      With respect to sever weather the US is leading, but with respect to long term weather prediction (ECMWF) and my field, homogenization science, Europe is ahead.

      Anyway, the Google searches do not represent the scientists, not matter how good they are, but the normal population.


Comments are welcome, but comments without arguments may be deleted. Please try to remain on topic. (See also moderation page.)

I read every comment before publishing it. Spam comments are useless.

This comment box can be stretched for more space.