Peak readership for anti-science blogs?

Tobis: Denyosphere Jumps the Shark

Comparative traffic rankings are always dicey — certainly Alexa.com is unreliable. Compete.com is considered perhaps the best available. Click on image for larger figure of ranking over 12 months, which shows the rise and fall of the anti-science crowd.

Back on March 26, Watts wrote, “Traffic has slowed from about half of what it was during the heady days of Climategate and Copenhagen in December, but I note that this is not unique to WUWT, as other climate blogs have also experienced similar drops since then” (see Hits charade: WattsUpWithThat hypes itself with dubious webstats, while lowballing other blogs).

That may be true of his fellow anti-science bloggers, but it’s not true of Climate Progress. ClimateAudit’s numbers are now apparently so low that Compete offers this disclaimer:

Yes, you can’t rely on Climate Audit’s statistics because of the low sample size! Irony can be so ironic.

Weeks after I called Watts out for his inane celebration of his “hits,” he continues to track them on his website. A typical explanation of just what Hits are, “Hits, Page Views, Visitors and Visits Demystified,” concludes “It is evident it does not make a lot of sense to count Hits.” So, of course, it is the perfect metric for the top anti-science website in the country.

My traffic is much higher now than in December. I have had a 33% to 40% increase in both subscribers to my feed and direct traffic (including) pageviews, comparing this month to December.

As I wrote back in March, webstats comparison sites (like Compete or Alexa) almost certainly miss a large fraction of my readers because I have chosen a subscriber-driven strategy. I devote a lot of prime real estate at the top of CP to getting subscriptions. I want people to read the content and I don’t care if they come here to do so (or go to other websites where I repost some content, such as Grist). I don’t know how many of my subscribers actually read my posts each day, or how many posts they read. The email subscribers and many if not most of the RSS feed subscribers can read any of the posts they want without ever coming here and registering in my webstats. I will note that if, say, only 1/3 of my subscribers read half of my posts a day without coming to CP, that would mean my actual pageviews were roughly double what the webstats programs show. There is, however, no good way of finding out.

WHY THE LOSS OF INTEREST IN ANTI-SCIENCE WEBSITES?

I’d be interested in your thoughts on this, but there are a number of possible explanations. Fundamentally, if you want to sustain and grow traffic you have to provide useful news and interesting analysis. The anti-science crowd don’t have any useful news or interesting analysis in the conventional sense. They aren’t reporting on the vast majority of the scientific literature, for instance, which is utterly fascinating, albeit depressing.

In a AAAS presentation this year, William R. Freudenburg of UC Santa Barbara discussed his research on “the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge”:

New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected.”

The anti-science crowd, however, is stuck pushing its disinformation, that this is all a hoax or a wild exaggeration. That limits the studies they can write about and/or forces them to repeat the same limited number of well-debunked arguments again and again and again, like attacking the uber-vindicated Hockey Stick for the umpteenth nauseating time.

It’s kind of like peak oil. We’re not making any more oil so eventually production has to peak. They’re not really making any new disinformation, and it just gets harder and harder to recycle the same old BS.

Since the overwhelming majority of the scientific observations provide strong confirmation of our understanding of human-caused global warming, the anti-science crowd has to twist themselves into ever more contorted pretzels on key subjects like Arctic ice:

And when a peer-reviewed study comes out pierces the heart of their tiny overwrought conspiracy theory — New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for “balance” — well, they launch a (tiny) overwrought attack.

I don’t think I could do a better job of dismantling this “blacklist” nonsense than Michael Tobis, so I recommend you read his post, “Denyosphere Jumps the Shark,” which concludes:

There’s nothing sinister about encouraging people to ignore opinions one finds unreasonable.

What do the facts tell us? Let’s keep in mind what the PNAS paper revealed. It did not reveal who had what opinions: it based that on public declarations. Everybody counted in the paper in either category had already added themselves to controversial lists. No new information about people and their opinions was published. Indeed, no names were named in the publication, though they had been visible for months on the web. All that was revealed was how much influence the signatories of the various statements have within the field.

This is what you call “citizen science”; the collation of available information from multiple sources. Connecting this paper to paranoia about “black lists” is completely detached from reality.

Propaganda is to be expected in climate issues of course; that’s the whole problem.

But this time it’s transparently crazy propaganda. Is this the same level of paranoia that’s behind the other criticisms of the field? (hint: yup) I hope the press thinks about this very carefully, not just the original publication, but the ridiculously overwrought response to it.

Speaking of crazy propaganda, Anthony Watts wrote Tuesday, “A short note about the state of affairs,” without a trace of irony:

While I don’t agree much with Tamino, it is his “place”. He can say what he wants, it is his right. Overall there’s too much pointless bluster and sniping in climate science. I wish there was a volume control.

Kids, can we just all “get along”?

But if you go over to Tamino, you’ll find this post:

How Low Can You Go?

Anthony Watts has decided to question my patriotism. Eli Rabett’s too.

Watts ends a post about flying his flag on memorial day with “I wonder if “Tamino” or Eli Rabbet bothers to fly a flag on memorial day? Here’s to hoping that they do.”

There’s no reason imaginable to say such a thing except to imply we’re not sufficiently patriotic.

This just might be the most loathsome thing Watts has yet done with his blog.

Such blatant hypocrisy and disingenuousness too may well be contributing to the decline in readership.

Over the longer term, if not the medium term, the anti-science crowd is, of course, doomed to have a shrinking audience. As conservative strategist and wordmeister Frank Luntz wrote in his infamous playbook on how to seem like you care about the climate when you don’t, “The scientific debate is closing (against us) but not yet closed.

Yes, a well-designed and well funded disinformation campaign can fool a great many people for an extended period of time, leading to unnecessary suffering by many, many millions — as we saw with the tobacco industry — but the truth will out.