2010-12-31 11:41:11Skeptical Science Plans for 2011
John Cook


2010 was a crazy and exciting year for SkS.


I wish I could take the credit for all the great ideas we tried out in 2010 but in truth, most of the time, I was just going along for the ride. The idea for the iPhone app came from Shine Tech. The one-liners came from Jan Dash. The 3 levels of rebuttals (and hence the forum) came from Michael Ashley. The Firefox add-on was another brainchild of Shine Tech. In fact, possibly the only idea I ever conceived myself was at the beginning when I decided to create a database of skeptic arguments. Ever since, I've been as surprised as anyone by the twists and turns.

The most exciting thing in 2010 was the creation of this community of authors (yes, even cooler than the iPhone app). So as this website has evolved from a simple blog into a community, I figure I should do better than just making it up as I go. I thought I'd outline some of the ideas I have planned for 2011. I welcome feedback, suggestions on how to refine or expand the plans and any other ideas. So we'll have a general direction for next year (while of course being sensitive to new developments and ideas).

Major plans

  • Rapid response network: this is my main focus for 2011. SkS has developed into a rich resource and I'd like to utilize all the different elements to coordinate responses to skeptic news articles. We need to get out of the blogosphere and into the mainstream media. One aspect will be online comments where we crowdsource posting comments to online skeptic articles. Even more important will be more higher level stuff - contacting editors, journalists, calling radio, submitting counter-op-eds, etc. The Firefox add-on will be the driving force of this system as we crowdsource monitoring of skeptic activity. If the system gets sophisticated enough, we'll even coordinate at a regional level with local users contacting their local paper.
  • Climate scientists explain: I hope to make this an ongoing blog series throughout the year with climate scientists writing guest posts on their area of expertise. At AGU, there seemed to be some good will towards SkS so hopefully, we'll be able to attract plenty of scientists. My hope is this will be a magnet for people interested in climate as they'll get to ask questions directly to scientists - a potentially fruitful outreach idea.
    Hopefully as this grows, I can recruit these scientists into our rapid response network too. It's all a rich tapestry!

Other ideas

  • Climate scientists talk: this is the collection of single quotes from scientists. It'll be a one-off outreach but once launched, I'll display random quotes in the right margin on every page (they'll replace the tweets). I hope to launch this in January but need 100 quotes first so any help finding good quotes are welcome.
  • Skeptic contradictions: I have a database of contradiction pairs - skeptic arguments that contradict each other. I also have a database of skeptic online articles, listing the arguments used in each article. Combine these two datasets and you get a very handy resource: a list of all the instances when a skeptic website contradicts itself. Not just one skeptic website. All of them! So what I was planning is this. Publish a top ten list of the skeptic websites that contradict themselves the most often. An internal inconsistency hall of shame. But I hope that's only the first step. I see this info as raw data but my hope is that other bloggers and possibly SkS authors will dig through the raw data and find particularly egregious contradictions. Find examples where Anthony Watts posts two contradicting arguments on the same day. Or when Jo Nova contradicts herself in the same blog post. A perfect result would be if blogs continue to repeatedly post examples of skeptic contradictions to ram home over and over that skeptics are inconsistent and not about truth.
    UPDATE 1 /1/2011: additional thought on contradictions - whenever a new skeptic article is added to the database, the system provides examples of past articles by the same author that contradicts the new article. So people can post comments pointing out where they contradict themselves.
  • Peer reviewed quotes: this was a nice idea by James. I'm thinking we build up a nice collection of short quotes from peer reviewed papers and publish them perhaps in February. Then leave a submission form so readers can add more quotes (I love the concept of crowdsourcing... in fact, I just love using the word crowdsourcing).
  • 3 levels of translation: I've been meaning for ages to revamp the translation admin so translators can do multiple levels of translations.
  • Social science experiments: I've already met with cognitive scientists at UWA about doing some social science experiments on SkS as a way of understanding better how people process information on blogs. This very morning, I spoke to a U.S. social scientist who is interested in doing similar research but with more of an emphasis on how to motivate people to change through "virtual organisations". So both those experiments may take up a fair chunk of my time (but are very exciting).
  • More power to Admin Authors. I think in 2011, I will be concentrating on programming, development, the social experiments and managing the community. This means, as my time is limited due to having a day job, that I will probably have less time to develop content, write blog posts. So I'd like to delegate more responsibility to the Admin Authors - give them the ability to add and edit blog posts, skeptic arguments and rebuttals. At the moment, SkS is more like a benevolent dictatorship but it needs to become more democratic.
  • Invitation Feature: following on from the whole assigning of responsibility, I've been thinking about adding a "Invite a Friend" feature to the forum. At the moment, only I can grant people access to the forum. I will certainly change it so the Admin Authors can invite others. But maybe I should make it so any Author can invite another Author. The benefit is we can grow this community, bring in more talent and willing helpers. The danger is the forum getting infiltrated by a skeptic who then invites all their chums. I don't fancy WUWT posting all our discussions. I don't even publicly promote the forum - I only mention it in private to people when I first invite them. So lots of pros and cons to this feature - I'm sure we could design it in such a way to maximise the benefits while minimising the risks (eg - track who invites who, perhaps only Admins can grant invitation ability to trusted users).
  • More graphics: I plan to keep adding to the high-rez graphics page. Hopefully it'll be a useful resource for climate communicators and I already have plenty of graphs and graphics lying around ready to be converted.
  • Promoting the Guide to Skeptical Science: Randy Olsen would be ashamed of me but I should've spent as much time thinking how I would promote the Guide to Skepticism as I did working on the content. It's started well, downloaded over 43,000 times since launch. But I could've done better. But an Italian translation has just been done and I'll launch it tomorrow. Hopefully the steady release of translations should keep reminding people about it and other opportunities will arise.
  • Book Launch: I've co-authored a book with environmental scientist Haydn Washington. We started work on it in late 2009, handed over the final manuscript a few months ago and the book will be published around April. It's got a nice benign title that is sure not to offend anyone: "Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand". So that should make the middle of the year interesting :-)
  • General website housekeeping: I need to attend to all the other little nooks and crannies that need attention on the website. Feel free to remind me of some urgent feature or bug I've forgotten to work on.
  • UPDATE 1 /1/2011 - Link Redirect Service: Over the last few days, someone has suggested a way of getting around all the broken links that emerge on SkS. Create a centralised database of links so from our SkS rebuttals, we link to a SkS address that redirects to the final URL. That way, when the URL changes, we update the database and the rebuttals and translations all automatically update.
  • 6/1/2011 - API Feed: We want to get our rebuttal database out there as widely as possible so one way is to make it available via an API feed so other programmers can use it in ways we might not even imagine now (hopefully good ways, of course).
  • 7/1/2011 - Series of Graph Plotting Tutorials: All SkS authors are encouraged to write blog posts explaining the nuts and bolts of how to plot climate graphs, as well as submit them to our Climate Graphics database.
  • 15/1/2011 - Monckton Myths: ongoing blog series culminating in the ultimate Monckton one stop debunk - a page summarising all the debunks of Monckton disinformation. If successful, we'll extend this to other skeptics. Eg - Carter Crocks, Spencer Slip-ups, Goddard Goofs, etc.
  • 17/1/2011 - Partnership with Climate Crock of the Week: Possible idea of coordinating Peter Sinclair's Crock videos with a SkS blog post to maximise reach and effectiveness. Possibly also coordinate with podcasts like The Climate Show and/or Irregular Climate.
  • 19/1/2011 - Mobile version of website: single column design, simpler, for viewing on smartphones.
  • 24/1/2011 - Short redirect URL. Register domain sks.to so people can use short URLs like http://sks.to/sun

So that's a few thoughts floating around in my head. It's a bit vague - no SWOT analysis or timetable. But I went into 2010 with no plan at all so I am improving! :-) Looking back at it all, I thought 2010 was mad - 2011 is looking to be even worse!

Feedback & suggestions welcome. Here's hoping 2011 will lead to us making a greater impact, particularly among the general public.

2010-12-31 13:01:46yikes
Dana Nuccitelli
Dang John, that's a long list of stuff!
2010-12-31 17:07:24You know what they say, shoot for the stars...
John Cook

I forgot to mention my personal goal is to achieve a healthy and sustainable balance between the day job, climate work and family life. I confess, I don't fancy my chances.

Oh and I'd love to somehow get out to AGU in December and meet with many of you, get together somewhere in San Francisco and swap war stories over an ale. Again, don't fancy my chances but I'll keep dreaming :-)

2010-12-31 18:45:23
Ari Jokimäki


"I forgot to mention my personal goal is to achieve a healthy and sustainable balance between the day job, climate work and family life."

Do tell me if you ever find a way to do that... ;)

2010-12-31 22:16:29

Great plan and lots of good ideas. It looks like one of your years is three years to normal people :)
2011-01-01 02:22:16Housekeeping
James Wight


The Firefox plugin lists a bunch of arguments for the Skeptical Science homepage. This seems rather odd because the homepage is continually changing as new articles are posted.

I still think the archives should be divided into months rather than years. 2010 includes hundreds of posts.

The links page for "Ice age predicted in the 70s" contains two links titled "test" which go to "cameronisawesome.com" and "cameronbradleyisawesome.com". Something tells me these resources are at the bottom of the credibility spectrum.

2011-01-02 09:18:25rapid response
Dana Nuccitelli
In the spirit of the Rapid Response Team concept, I drafted up a quick rebuttal to a skeptic blog post Albatross identified.  See here.
2011-01-02 15:09:26Rapid response
John Cook

I haven't gone into the nuts and bolts of it yet but I envisage the SkS authors community as being a dynamic and fast moving provider of content for our army of "climate warriors". Eg - a new skeptic argument rears its ugly head, the SkS authors quickly produce a rebuttal much like Dana's rebuttal of future cooling, then the 'warriors' disseminate this info out on blogs and online newspaper articles.
2011-01-06 19:27:55
Glenn Tamblyn



As an old time IT guy, who now pulls latte's and cooks steak sandwiches, your list is long and cries out for as much meta-thinking as possible. How can you use the resources you have to not just deliver the capabilities you are describing (and we can all imagine more features), but to build a 'capability delivery' capability. Can you distribute code developement? Can you distribute database development? Can you distribute integration of argument marshalling.

'Here's hoping 2011 will lead to us making a greater impact, particularly among the general public.'. This is the biggy. My fantasy, and I admit I don't have a clear idea about how to achieve it, is to take the corpus of data, analysis & reasoning and using it as a resource to reach out to the general public with the basic message - 'this is serious shit. PAY ATTENTION.'

This is where I think SkS is a unique resource. Other blogs are more personal, or from a core of people such as RC. SkS is broadening its resource base and remit. How can that resource be used in new ways?

To repeat an opinion I have expressed before, what the world needs is a process for connecting to people in their private lives, in their private spaces and 'trust networks'. Then activities in public spaces such as the media, the IPCC, the blogosphere can be used in concert with this private space communication.

2011-01-06 21:31:35Capability delivery
John Cook


Re distributing code & database development, I'm up for this. But I've never been involved in any open-source projects before so wouldn't have a clue how to organise it or even where to begin. So if anyone here has experience in how to approach this, chime in here or start a thread in the technical forum and we'll explore it further.

Yes, it is a long list for 2011. But consider I started 2010 with no list at all and last year was an amazing whirlwind. So hopefully we can find ways to push it even further this year.

Oh, and I forgot one thing for the 2011 list - an API feed. Adding now...

2011-01-07 02:59:26Idea
Robert Way

Hey John,
I was thinking about something that could be of use during the next year. Perhaps we should have some sort of software training or section on the blog (or the forum) where people can ask questions about plotting climate data and can get knowledge on how to do these things. I was thinking of this in the sense that we use it to give all the authors (or even readers) the tools to be able to effectively show climate data. An example would be links to where climate data can be found (say the NOAA state of the climate report) and then tips on how to take that data and make it useful in spreadsheet software or programming software (such as excel, python, matlab... etc...)

We could explain the do's and don't's so that people make less mistakes that skeptics can jump on and hopefully it would help to train everyone to be better at what we do. Software for graphics potentially too. any thoughts?
2011-01-07 07:45:05
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn

These are fantastic plans, John - I look forward to it taking shape.

I think Robert's suggestion that a software training section somewhere is a fantastic one. I wanted to suggest at some point that we could have sections on the blog discussing the basic physics and statistics behind climate science, but it was quite a selfish suggestion as it was to help me, as a bioscience graduate, understand climate science better. But Robert's suggestion will do nicely - I'd love to be able to to plot climate data and understand what I'm doing. There seems to be a considerable number of people on here who are comfortable doing these things, and it would be great to learn from them.

2011-01-07 13:18:24Tutorials on plotting data
John Cook


This is an exciting and powerful idea. I plot my graphs in Excel but I'm self-taught and can't help thinking there must be better ways of doing it. So would welcome this series myself, to pick up some better techniques.

Can I suggest it take possibly the following form? Each blog post takes a specific example of plotting certain data. It goes through the nuts and bolts of downloading the data, which software to use (links if its freeware), step-by-step on how to get the software to plot the data including how to get it into final graphic format. Then at the end, show the final graph and also have the graph added to the Climate Graphics resource.

A complement to this series is having a submission form on the Climate Graphics resource page so anyone can submit graphics to that section. I'll work on that submission form and if anyone else is interested in posting blog posts explaining how they produced a graph, sounds great. The ideal end goal - fostering a community of climate enthusiasts plotting data and building a resource of powerful climate graphics.

2011-01-07 13:38:40Idea for 1st Graphic/Post
Robert Way

Hey John,
I was thinking of doing a post at some point (once all the data is made available) on bringing GISS, RSS, UAH, NOAA and Hadley to the same baseline and then use the graphic and corresponding excel table and graphic for the resource. My issue is I have to wait until the last month of 2010 is available and I will make it into the 1980-2010 baseline.
2011-01-07 14:59:171st graphic
John Cook


So kind of like http://www.skepticalscience.com/Comparing-all-the-temperature-records.html but with more explanation of excel techniques and links to original data?

So I suppose too much to ask that it includes the European reanalysis? :-) The reason I'm so keen to see the Europe time series is GISS, NOAA and Europe are the only ones that I know of that include all the Arctic regions - and as NOAA and GISS share data, Europe provides an independent confirmation.

2011-01-23 06:30:47Tie-in with Greenfyre's?


A recent post by Mike Kaulbars' on his Greenfyre's-blog sounds as if there might be some potential overlap with the SkS-plans for 2011:
"Climate change, getting our boots on...."


2011-01-23 13:27:30Eric L and Greenfyre's email addresses
John Cook

Does anyone have Eric L or Greenfyre's email addresses? I wouldn't mind getting in contact with either.
2011-01-23 20:04:33Greenfyre's email....


....is greenfyre@ncf.ca



2011-01-23 22:03:59
Paul D


I seem to have focused on the General Chat part of the forum and missed this post completely.

Can't help noticing that at the end of 2010 the graph shows some cooling. Has that anything to do with solar cycles?
I demand that independent scientists that are not tainted by government funding investigate all the data and code.

Actually, because there are so many subject areas, maybe a list or menu of the latest starting posts would be useful in the left menu column??
Just the title and author of the person starting a new topic, ordered with the latest at the top.

2011-01-23 22:25:04Late 2010 cooling
John Cook

A large contributor to the late 2010 century is that natural cycle called Christmas break - traffic dropped substantially over Christmas. Then theres also the fact that I plotted this graph with a few days of data missing.

annoyingly, my web host upgraded their stats package in January so there may be problems combining the data - like grafting the XBT ocean heat data with the Argo data.

2011-01-23 23:38:27Grafting?
James Wight


John is using Mike's Nature trick to hide the decline!

You heard it here first.