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Why SkS withdrew from the Bloggies

Posted on 1 March 2013 by John Cook

The Weblog Awards, aka the Bloggies, is an annual competition honoring blogs in various categories. Finalists are chosen by online nomination and winners are chosen by online voting. This year, Skeptical Science made the finalists of the Science and Technology category. Yesterday, I requested that SkS be withdrawn from the competition, as reported in the Guardian. Why? Because the Bloggies have become inextricably associated with anti-science blogs.

In an inversion of reality, the Science and Technology category is dominated by anti-science blogs that post conspiracy theories about the scientific community, deny the full body of evidence and reject the scientific consensus. The fact that 4 out of 5 science finalists are anti-science demonstrates that the integrity of the Bloggies Award has been compromised. I, like any pro-science blogger, am not comfortable with the notion of competing for an award that has previously been won by anti-science blogs.

It's worth considering why there is such an asymmetry with the award swarmed by readers of anti-climate science blogs but ignored by legitimate science and technology blogs. Quite simply, this is all they've got. Anti-science blogs reject the consensus of evidence in the peer-reviewed literature. They reject the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community. They value the opinion of anonymous internet users over climate scientists actively publishing climate research in the peer-reviewed literature.  They clutch at any life preserver to ward off the rising tide of evidence for dangerous man-made global warming, as demonstrated by the zeal that led to 9 anti-science blogs appearing in the finalists of various categories.

Can the Bloggies free themselves from the association with anti-science and attract back the interest of the science blogging community? It's a tough ask but I see only one way to achieve this. Anti-science blogs should not be allocated to a science category. An expert panel could take an active role in filtering the nominees, to ascertain that they properly qualify in the category for which they have been nominated. Perhaps instituting such a policy may attract science and technology blogs back to the Bloggies Awards in the future, although it may take time for the association with anti-science to wear off.

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Comments 101 to 115 out of 115:

  1. "Could someone be so kind to tell me where could have a more or less continuous view of the debate? (from a critical position I mean)... or simply it does not exist, everything is closed, and I should read SKS and SoD only."

    What those blogs have convinced you by their misrepresentation is that a debate exists. In your sphere of geophysics (mine too), science debates take place in the journals. That is where they belong. Climate science is debated in the journals but 99% of what is in debate is of no interest to WUWT crew because it would not have a policy outcome that is favourable to the authors or readers.

    Now if you think otherwise, and there is substantive debate over validity of climate science, then I suggest (as others did), that you put up your evidence (in an appropriate thread here). In the subsequent discussion, then perhaps it will become clearer whether you have been misled or whether we have.

    If you want to know what happening in the science from blogs, then read blogs written by practising publishing climate scientists. That would include Roy Spencer but also RealClimate, Issac Held, Chris Colose to name a few. SoD is really about what's in the textbooks not the journals. Very very good for the basics.

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  2. Composer99 at #100. I'm not sure in which fallacy falls this argument, ad populum or ad verecundiam. Maybe is a mixture.

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  3. Eclectikus,

    ...we're far to have a working model of the earth climate.

    False.  This is one of the denier's mantras.  "We don't know enough!"

    B.S.  Go read.  I already told you, you don't actually understand enough of the science to adopt the position that you have.  But rather than learn more, you claim to know everything you need to know, and supplement your ignorance by reading WUWT.

    For shame.

    I really do not understand why it is so hard to accept this position... is there any other coherent position?

    That's because you don't understand the science, so you read all sorts of emotional (and false) nonsense that you see on B.S. sites like WUWT.  The foundation of your position — that climate science is weak, that the IPCC is corrupt, even that there is some sort of debate about the science itself — is undermined by reality.  You can't see that, though, because instead of educating yourself, you come here to pontificate, or go to WUWT to get even more confused about the state of the science.

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  4. Eclectikus wrote:

    "In Feynman's sense, theories that are unable to explain empirical values, and in this sense (and only in this sense) Climatology could be tagged as pseudoscientific."


    Philippe Chantreau, up above, has already pointed out that modern medicine is full of unknowns, but it is worth repeating. Not a day goes by in a physician's life without an empirical result popping up that cannot be explained. Many diseases and syndromes even have the word 'idiopathic' in their name - this word simply means "cause unknown". And yet, despite the unknowns, lives are saved, diseases are cured, and the amount that is known is too vast for any human single being to cover in their lifetime. By your definition, modern medicine is pseudoscientific. 

    I am often struck by the parallels between climatology and medicine. Both deal with imperfect data and complex systems. Both have to make predictions and recommend solutions without the luxury of waiting for perfect information and a complete theory that will never come. Both have to fend off attacks by fringe theorists who claim to know better than those who have actually done the hard yards and, you know, studied the subject. And, of course, both are "pseudoscence" by your weird definition. This suggests your definition is not very useful.

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  5. Thank you scaddenp, I take note and I probably come back with some questions in different areas I have, basically about confidence in models and on several sources of uncertainties recognized by NASA itself: http://climate.nasa.gov/uncertainties/

    In order to be reasonably informed in a particular issue, reading the papers in the journals is a excesive time consumer, for my is more easy go to selected works pointed out here or there, and reading what people more engaged have to say on particular threads in several blogs. I think is a very good option that Internet offers to all of us, people no directly implicated on Climatology. I read often Roy Spencer (and also Steve McIntyre), less Real Climate, and I didn't know about Issac Held... bookmarked, you see? always is possible to get something clean. Thanks.

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  6. 104 # Leto. Please take a look the video I posted in #43, and you'll see where I take this "weird definition".

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  7. Sphaerica #103, you understand what you want understand. I read WUWT, and when I do I know what I read. I also read SkS, SoD, Climate Audit, Roy Spencer, Curry, and some more. Are you claiming to close all blogs except SkS and realClimate?

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  8. Eclectikus:

    You've bought into Judith Currie's "uncertainty monster", and unfortunately you don't have the knowledge to recognize it for what it is (which is not much). The sources you are using are seriously overblowing the significance of the uncertainties.

    You've been asking about sources summarizing climate science. I suggest you try reading Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming.

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  9. I will stop comparing climate science with Quantum theory if you stop making meaningless arguments about the "age" of an area of science.

    Your "endemic problem" is BS. Fake skeptics' theories are mutually exclusive ("i.e. it's the sun" and "climate sensitivity is low") and have no grounding in reality. They're made up according to the need of the moment. Nothing follows in the litterature that is worth considering. In an effort of your own rethoric, youonly cite various wordings of what is the same thing, without showing that the thing was any different. I'm unimpressed. As for the "snowfalls are a thing of the past", I have never seen any such statement from a source that is worth reading. Considering the enormity of it, please provide a source. 

    Watts' problem is not one of communication, it's one of incompetence:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/06/09/co2-condensation-in-antarctica-at-113f/

    Not only did they give this much serious consideration, but the peanut gallery in the comment thread keeps on ridiculing the people trying to inject some sense in the discussion, the kind who could understand the phase diagram. That's a legitimate source to you? Really?

    I still go read these posts when I need a good laugh. In subsequent ones they do little high school experiments and eventually conclude "it seemed like a good idea at the time."

    Now please explain to me how these buffoons add quality to any kind of debate about science. Goddard was described by Smokey as writing "informative posts."

    Eventually Watts had to distance himself from Goddard's incompetence in an effort to keep up appearances. That's too bad, it was more entertaining when he was on. board...

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  10. Hmm, Weart is great account of the historical background. SoD "insigificant trace gas" series is great introduction to basic physics, but for overview of science, it's hard to beat the IPCC WG1 report.

    There is no talk of "closing blogs" - how could you? But if you are interested in scientific truth as opposed to ideology-driven anti-science why would bother to read sites that misinform? (and I would hasten to add that Spenser and Curry arent in the sewer with WUWT). The usual reason is to seek confirmation of what you hope is true. A science education is about training the mind on how not to fool yourself.

    Discussion on models belongs in the "Models are unreliable" thread. However, there are some caveats to observe when thinking about GCM models. While purposes overlap, there are two reasons for creating computer models. We could be realising well-established conceptual models for a useful purpose (eg tomorrows weather or plotting a probe to Hyperion). Or we could be testing our conceptual models by checking computation against observation. GCMs are used for both but differences in intent change what is actually done. In both cases, comparisions or predictions have to be made against uncertainties inherent in both the computations from the models and in the measurements of the real world. This leads to very different levels of robustness about predictions. In evaluating models, it often better to think of model skill (performance of model predictions compared to null hypothesis). Current GCMs have no skill at decadal level prediction for instance. They have considerable skill in many other areas.

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  11. Eclectikus@106. The definition did not seem to come up in that video - unless I missed it. But it doesn't matter where the definition came from - the way you have applied the definition is invalid, even if the definition had some merit in another context, with the appropriate caveats in place.

    It would be reasonable to characterise as "pseudoscience" a discipline that was unable to explain any empirical data or produce any empircal predicitons. On the other hand, it would be ludicrous to characterise a discipline as pseudoscience simply because it failed to explain all empirical data, or had a few unknowns, like physiology and climatology.

    So, are you saying that climate science is pseudoscience in the same way that physiology is pseudoscience?

    And, while we are on the topic, how would denialist climate theory stack up against the requirement that it must have explanatory and predictive power to be considered science? What empircal data is better explained by a denialist than by consensus climate science? Even cherry-picked snatches of noise do not get explained by any of these guys, just pointed out - with the statistical sophistication of an astrologist. The latest effort at WUWT includes drawing a fat yellow horizontal line over an uplsoping trend of ocean-heat content and calling it a pause in global warming, a challenge to AGW. How is that not pseudoscience, by any definiton?

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  12. Eclectikus: 93.- doug_bostrom, some of them only support a reading diagonal, maybe, but "WUWT" is not specifically a divulgative blog like this, and this has to be in the reader's mind.

    Twenty articles and not a single one you're prepared to unreservedly endorse as "good?" Having nothing more specific to work with I take it thereby that when you say "I've also read good articles at WUWT"  you mean some proportion fewer than 1:20 are "good" by your own estimation.

    Perhaps if I'd provided a larger sample (50?) we'd learn something more about the "good versus something else" ratio. As it stands, some proportion less than 1/20th useful is not an impressive record. But that's not necessarily the end of the story; it's still possible that you could identify which of the sample consisting of the last twenty climate science related articles at WUWT strike you as good.

    Unfortunately even if 1:10 articles or even 1:5 articles at WUWT prove to be worthwhile we're still seeing confirmation of John Cook's original point of his blog post.

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  13. 1)  Eclectikus makes a variety of claims about Richard Feynman's views on pseudo-science, but does not quote a source for those claims.  Google searching, I have found two discussions of pseudoscience by Feynman available on the net.  The first, and more substantive, only refers to pseudoscience in the introductory comment which was not part of the actual lecture.  In the lecture itself, he only refers to "cargo cult science", a term which is definitely pejorative.  Clearly Feynman considers "cargo cult science" and "pseudoscience" to be the same thing.

    The distinction between cargo cult science and real science turns out to be a kind of scientific integrity.  Feynman describes it as follows:

    "... It is interesting, therefore, to bring [the distinction between cargo cult science and real science] out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another."

    (Quoted from here.)

    Let's be very direct about this.  A cherry picker does not "... give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution".  Somebody who does not calculate the predictions of their theory does not "... give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution".  Somebody whose account of the science contradicts itself does not "... give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution".  

    Therefore, by Feynman's definition there is no doubt that the Coleman article is "cargo cult science", ie, pseudoscience.

    Eclecticus can disagree with that assessment if he likes, but he cannot honestly do so while quoting Feynman as his authority.  If he disagrees, he owes us his own definition of "pseudoscience", and he needs to justify it with rational argument - something he appears unprepared to do.

    It should be noted that one person falling below this ideal does not make a discipline pseudoscience.  Science is a self correcting communal activity.  Individual scientists are human, and like most humans tend to protect favoured theories from criticism to some extent.  But the scientific community as a whole, particularly the scientist's peers in the discipline will not be so slack.  In this respect, climate science is clearly scientific; whereas the AGW "skeptical" movement is astonishingly reticent in criticizing even the most absurd ideas, provided they would make taking action against global warming, if true.  The political effect of those theories clearly outways, in their minds, any commitment to scientific integrity.  That, and perhaps, a fear that if they are too open in exposing the fallacies of their fellow travellors, their fellow travellors might return the favour.

    2) It was well said by some ancient sage, and recorded in the Tanakh that, 

    "Of making many books there is no end".

    That was said while books where still written by hand on parchment.  You can imagine that sage's distress if confronted with the internet.

    The point is that, even if we confine ourselves to scientific papers (for example), there is far more material produced than any one person could hope to read, let alone analyse and understand.  To cope with modern flood of information, we need spam filters.

    As noted, this applies even in science.  That is the purpose of peer review, which is supposed to weed out papers that are obviously poorly supported or simply wrong. Peer review does not pretend, and cannot hope, to eliminate all errors from scientific papers.  But it does aim to ensure that any errors that make it through to publication are either subtle, ie, not easy to find, or interesting, ie, to show that they are errors you need to learn something new.

    A good science blog should also be a spam filter.  It should weed out the pseudoscience, and the misleadingly presented.  It should present only posts which are reasonable summaries of the science, which are interesting, and encourage people to learn critical thinking rather than gullibility.  

    By this standard Skeptical Science is a good science blog.

    By this standard, WUWT is the antithesis of a good science blog.  It does not weed out the bad articles, such as that by Coleman.  It certainly does not encourage critical thinking, but instead teaches gullibility.  The same can be said of all four remaining short listed nominees for the best science award at the blogees.

    Regardless of what definition Eclectikus contrives to maintain his belief that WUWT is a good science blog, the fact remains that as a spam filter to filter out bad science and bad reasoning, WUWT fails abysmally.  Indeed, it works more to filter out good science and good reasoning rather than the reverse.

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  14. Doug Bostrom - Less than 1:20 rated as good. Hmm, that seems to indicate a 2-sigma significance result, that "good" is not supported by the evidence for that blog source. 

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  15. Nice Kr :-) Nothing like real data analysis, something that Watts took years to do and when he did he couldn't acknowledge the results. Not surprising since the results invalidated the very initial premise of his site's existence. Nuff said 

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  16. Eclectikus,

    "Just a note about pseudoscience. The term itself is a modern term who started on XX century. The pejorative connotation is still more modern, coming from probably when it was linked with homeopathy, astrology and so on...
     
    For example, Feynman includes Social Science and Economy on pseudosciences (but without the pejorative tone): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtMX_0jDsrw
     
    I am almost sure that Feynman would do the same with Climate Alarmism today (again without the pejorative tone), because in many senses, suffers of identical failures than Economy, Sociology... they are no susceptiuble of falsability, and fail to fulfill the Scientific Method."

    While I don't think it was a good idea for SkS to pull out of the awards Feynman would approve of the principle being defended - good science, to put it simply. Not politically correct (cargo cult) science, or politically driven science, but adherence to the scientific method. While there are patches of sound methodology in the skeptical blogs, the major part of their output is (cargo) cult science. The ideology is primary in those places. They are forever attemtping to disprove 'AGW'. Feynman said;
     
    “Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty -- some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain."
     
    The skeptical blogs highlight uncertainty to furnish their ideology. They do not operate from a spirit of enquiry. Uncertainty is used to argue that climate science is fatally flawed. I can understand the frustration that led to SkS withdrawing from the awards. The contest is antithetical to science. Quality science is not determined by a vote.
     
    Feynman might have eschewed climate change activism (maybe), but would align with SkS on the scientific principle. You appear to conlfate climate science with climate activism. I think it is unfortunate messaging that SkS have used a political vehicle (protesting) to defend the principle of science. It would be a mistake, however, to characterise SkS' scientific fidelity on this one action.
     
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