2010-08-09 06:30:35Length of posts
Robert Way

Hello John and All,

I'm a little curious about the rough length for basic level posts (basic/intermediate/advanced is my preference). Although intermediate posts vary extensively in length perhaps we should put some set in stone rules about the length of basic posts so we can give an argument which is as compact as possible thereby reaching a wider audience. I think it is hard to do because of the complexity of some issues but we should try to maintain at least a particular length for most basic posts. Any ideas on what would be an appropriate length?
2010-08-09 10:11:32General rule of thumb: 260 words
John Cook


No set in stone rule yet as there isn't any existing "Basic versions" to use as a guide. However, my Debunks of the Week in the Irregular Climate podcast might serve as a general rule of thumb. The word count varies a fair bit, between 150 to 320 words with an average of 260 words. Generally, I break them up into around 4 paragraphs.

I'll start posting my podcasts as suggested BASIC rebuttals as a way of both giving examples of basic versions and getting the process started on feedback.

2010-08-09 21:58:01Basic Versions


Here's some questions for the basic variety; possibly just to start a discussion;

Should we avoid graphs ( I'd argue most laypeople are scared of them )

Should technical jargon be avoided ? Does the layperson care about HadCRUT3, or do their eyes glaze over? Would it be better to say 'the best temperature records show..'or similar...( the medium level will have the specific references ).




2010-08-09 22:11:57To graph or not to graph
John Cook

Should we avoid graphs? Good question. The answer lies in what is most persuasive and helps people understand best. I'd say sprinkled in there to clarify and illuminate is good. Overuse (which I probably did in my 1998 example) can break the rhythm of an explanation. So I don't know if you can rule them out, perhaps it's a case by case situation. Welcome other thoughts on this.

Definitely no technical jargon. I'll draw up a list of general guidelines and no acronyms will be one of the leading rules. The way I frame it in my head when writing a basic version is how would I explain it if I was trying to explain it to my wife. She doesn't tolerate any crap at all so my explanations have to be clear, concise and with no waffle or technobabble at all.
2010-08-09 23:52:58Length and content
John Russell



I think we'll find, certainly for the basic category, the rebuttal should be no longer  -- or shorter -- than is required to enable the explanation to be clear and concise (ie ., to meet the needs of the audience). To constrain the argument artificially produce compromises that can only make the answer less useful. Clearly some answers will be longer some some shorter -- as needs must.

Regarding visuals, graphical or pictorial, they should be as simple as possible.  Where they are simplified versions of more complex graphs or information, a link should be provided to the original. 



2010-08-10 00:15:08Linking to complex graphs
John Cook


What I like about this multi-level system is we don't have to give the reader everything in the basic version. We can intentionally leave out all the nitty gritty details, the complexities, knowing it's all in there at the higher levels. So basically we just tell the reader how things are. If they want more details, they can easily click the Intermediate or Advanced tabs.

It's also good from an educational point of view. We explain the basics in broadbrush strokes, give them the general gist. Then they flesh out their understanding in the higher levels.

So it works both as a persuasive/debating tool and as an educational tool. Well, that's the theory, anyway.

Anyway, if we do simplified versions of more complex graphs, perhaps just have the graph link to the higher level. If we want to get fancy, we can always add a HTML anchor to the higher level so that the lower level links directly to the appropriate place on the page.

2010-08-10 21:48:48About the assumption of tabs
Graham Wayne

Just want to point out there seems to be an assumption these explanations will be read in situ - with the intermediate and advanced tabs hovering, ready to supply more detail. I feel cautious about this, and I'm trying to make my contributions work stand-alone, because they are more flexible, can be deployed consistently (cut and paste for example) and if the basic items are going out as stand-alone posts, I feel they should validate any definitive statement.

Any thoughts on this?

2010-08-10 22:33:08Re: assumption of tabs
John Russell


The 'in-brief' basic level is dangerous out of context and I agree with Graham that every basic rebuttal should always be appended with a qualification -- something along the lines of...

"This is the basic rebuttal for argument number [x] in a list of more than 100. For a more detailed rebuttal of this and the other sceptic arguments please go to [link to SkS]."

Best wishes,


2010-08-10 23:05:23Re: Use of Graphs
John Russell


Having seen what others have already done in other threads, and said in this thread above, I would propose that we avoid reproducing graphs from papers in the basic rebuttals. If it seems appropriate to use a graph then  it should be a simplified version, clearly explained, of all or part of a graph that is also then used in the 'in-full' (medium) rebuttal. The only annotation'reference/title for the basic graph should then be a link to its use in the longer rebuttal.

This will ensure that the basic graph is not misunderstood and does not put off the audience. Otherwise the basic rebuttal might end up looking too much like the more complicated rebuttals.

What do others think?

Best wishes,


2010-08-16 05:16:45I agree with John Cook...260 words is a nice target
Jim Meador


I have been reading some of the proposals for basic arguments, and I feel we could be doing much more to cut to the core of the arguments.

A clear, concise argument can have greater impact than a wordy one. Readers who want more details can easily find them.

As scientific thinkers, we have a tendency to try to be thorough, but this instinct does not serve us well for the task at hand.

(For a concrete example, see my suggestions on topic 94.

I say cut to the chase!


2010-08-16 10:24:39More length added to length discussion

W/regard to length, it's reasonable to say that reduction of information in the culinary sense leaves ambiguity hanging in the air.  It is undeniably (hah!) a good thing to make succinct rebuttals available for the use of folks whose beliefs have not cured in a particular configuration. That said, the brevity and necessary truncation of "Basic" rebuttals will attract skeptics like a plate of uncooked beef left in the jungle. Be prepared! Or, take this as another reason to make comment threads invisible on "Basic" argument tabs.
2010-08-19 18:44:47Some more thoughts (and an idea)


This morning I didn't have enough time to read the latest installments of the basic-rebuttal blog post so I quickly copied and pasted the texts into a Word-document to read them offline later. I noticed that each rebuttal fit nicely on one page (A4) and that in turn led to the idea that - once most of the basic rebuttals have been created, they could perhaps be collected in a kind of PDF-leaflet with one page per rebuttal and the page# fitting the rebuttal# for ease of reference. I think that this might be something helpful to keep carrying around for folks who don't have iPhones or the perfect memory.

So, this might perhaps be somthing to also keep in mind with regards to the length of the basic rebuttals.


2010-08-19 19:33:51PDF of basic rebuttals
John Cook

This is a great suggestion and cool that they fit on an A4 (we'll have to work out the A4 limit and make that the word limit). I like the idea of generating the PDF dynamically straight from the database which would make the document much lower maintenance. However I've never gotten around to learning how to generate PDFs using PHP so if there are any boffins who know how to do this who'd be interested in helping with this idea, post here and we'll explore the possibilities.
2010-08-19 20:54:31

Some will require less words, others more. I'm working on the principle of fitting them into an A4 page as the max and cutting down as best I can.
2010-08-22 21:33:26Rules (or guidelines) proposal
Dick Veldkamp


Having read the discussion above, and thinking about my own experience with giving presentations, how about these rules (guidelines if you prefer) for basic arguments:

1- Must  fit on one A4 (TimesRoman 12pt, say). Let's make this rule immutable.

2- Word count 400 tops, but go for <300 if at all possible.

3- Not more than 1 graph. The graph should be easy to read (not more than a couple of lines in a graph) not be smaller than 1/4 of an A4.

4- Always end with "TAKE HOME MESSAGE" = the main point in one sentence.


2010-08-23 22:42:09Please, no "Take Home Message"!


Dick Veldkamp,

On "take home message":

I agree with the principle of having a one-sentence summary at the end. But I shudder at calling it a "take home message".

It makes the whole enterprise sound like a political campaign, instead of a presentation of the science.


On graphs:

Graphs should be included when actually useful to comprehension. However, I have seen plenty of technical papers in which the authors put up a graph and say, "The results are shown in the graph." This generally leads to blank stares from readers who are not already experts. If you put in a graph, please state the conclusion that you want the reader to draw from it.


 On A4:

My opinion is that A4 is already a little long. We need to get to the point as quickly as possible, before the attention wanders. There should be enough qualifiers that we aren't actually saying anything wrong, but these basic rebuttals are not intended to be thesis defenses.

2010-08-27 09:31:03Useful information squirrelled away in here!

Thanks Dick, that's a handy checklist for a newbie like me.  I've broken all those rules already... but now I know better!