2010-08-18 07:27:44SkS glossary?


While working on a post today I bumped into a conundrum.

Basic rebuttals are preferably short but completely avoiding the use of technical terms balloons length as we must supply many words to talk around single words conveying the same meaning. The word I ran into was "isostatic" but of course there are loads of others.

General conclusion: To the extent we can make it work, basic arguments should avoid being freighted w/specialist jargon. However from time to time supporting such a goal is going to be awkward and counterproductive when such a strategy leads to a fog of words.

Possible solution for those cases when using a single word really is best: How about a glossary implemented as little pop-ups?  In the case of "isostatic" the word itself could be a link which if clicked would pop up a little window with a definition.

The mechanical part of such a thing  could be made so that definitions could be populated on an as-needed basis by authors themselves, the author invoking an input form when needed. The input portion could be equipped w/a list showing already-populated terms. Thus the facility would automatically grow itself and become more useful as a general utility for the entire site, useful also on comment threads, blog posts and the like.

In all your spare time, John... :-)

2010-08-18 17:25:02Doug, are you trying to kill me?
John Cook

Actually this is a really cool idea. I hate cool ideas, it's like this whole plain english concept that I just couldn't ignore. What I think I'll do is get this multiple-level thing all settled then I'll set up some kind of glossary admin. Maybe do something similar to this forum? But not quite so rigorously peer reviewed. Will have to think about how this might work, perhaps this thread could be the place to nut out the details.
2010-08-19 05:20:50Glossary admin, peer review

I'm really impressed by the level of effort and care shown in the construction of basic rebuttals. Perhaps peer review could simply take the form of a semi-automated thread in the authors' forum where newly contributed definitions appear as posts, thus bringing them to our attention so we can make corrections if need be?
2010-08-19 06:37:27Comment
Robert Way

Maybe, but then we don't get to be surprised everytime we come to this website :P

I think the glossary is a great idea and almost a necessity for a website like this. The thing with a glossary is we can decide on definitions from books too. That way we cover our bases because they've already been reviewed and approved. I do think its a necessity but it will bring in a lot of work. Sorry John. The one thing with it though is it will allow for links to be placed on any difficult to understand concept for the occasional reader.
2010-08-20 12:04:26Glossary exploration


In email I mentioned to John I'd be willing to do some backend coding for the hypothetical glossary and included some specifics on how such an animal might function. John suggested bouncing ideas off the group here, an excellent thought.

Recap of objective: provide an online glossary allowing technical jargon to be written as hyperlinks thereby allowing a popup with definitions for such jargon  to be available for readers of SkS.

So here's a start to begin mutating: 

I see a MySQL table w fields for /the word to be defined, the definition, definition source, revision/entry date and handle of author entering the definition.

A simple interface to the glossary system would be provided, in the form of a convenient popup window available while writing.

The author interface box would have a pulldown or scrolling list for discovering if a word is already in the database plus entry fields for the word, definition, and definition source.

If the word in play is present, the tool presents a URL for the particular glossary definition popup which the author can copy and insert into their text.

If the word is not found, the author could optionally populate the entry fields consisting of word, definition and source. After a  duplicate check against the target word, the word, definition and metadata would be entered into the database.

This leaves the issue of quality control. Optionally when a new entry is generated at that point the tool could kick a post into a machine-populated author forum thread for review, or an email could be generated for delivery to a glossary maintainer. 

John has suggested that either a single fully qualified author may create and/or release new definitions or  we may use the "thumbs up" peer review system. For my part I'm not sure the stakes here are high enough to warrant the friction generated by the latter requirement as individual word definitions are easier to accurately capture than presentations encapsulating complex concepts. As well, a full peer review system will impede fully qualified authors from contributing and employing new definitions and thus will discourage participation in the system. My feeling is that if we're alerted to the instantiation of a new definition somebody will generally catch fatal errors. That said there may be good reasons to be more formal about the process.

2010-08-23 22:34:39
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn

Ha, I hadn't seen that but I'd also thought that a glossary would be very helpful - if nothing else, to help keep posts flowing.

I'm only at the beginning of the programming journey but you seem to cover everything. I may just add that when checking for duplicates, you'd need to maybe include the different spellings in use - for example, skepticism and scepticism. But maybe I'm just being difficult here.

As for quality control, I don't think the peer-review system is required. Maybe we could have an intermediary step, where the new definitions can be stored but need to be checked by a fully qualified author who can accept or reject it. My little brain tells me this wouldn't be too complicated to set up but I'm really no expert.

2010-08-24 02:37:33Excellent idea
John Russell


Excellent idea. Can we start collecting the words that need explaining somewhere.

Can I start with 'Buffer'?

Another thought, though; some technical words can be substituted with just a few simple words to explain their meaning. While a glossary is useful, we shouldn't use it as an excuse to get lazy and not attempt simple English -- which would make the rebuttal tortuous for the basic reader who has to keep trotting off at a tangent (...now, where was I?). 

What I am saying is that we should still use simple English wherever possible -- though perhaps with the technical word in brackets and linked(?).  And perhaps we should restrict technical words to no more than one or two per rebuttal So I can imagine a sentence that might go...

The oceans act as a store [ buffer ], absorbing some of the increasing CO2 from the atmosphere.

...with the link to the glossary explaining in a lot more detail the meaning of 'buffer'.

How does this strike you?

Best wishes,


2010-08-26 02:27:42Pleased create the Skeptical Alphabet and set up team to do it
Klaus Flemløse

The Skeptical Alphabet
I think it is a great idea to create a glossary or lexicon. I have seen a terrible example of a skeptical homepage:
I am looking forward to that someone will take the responsibility to organizer the Skeptical Alphabet.
The organizer must create a preliminary list of concepts to be explained and ask for contributions. Next step will be to define writing style and the write I down. Finally some must approve it.
A decision must be taken in respect of including political subject. Will it be OK to include subject as:
  1. Bjørn Lomborg and his links to climate skeptical organizations,
  2. Henrik Svensmark and his links to political right wing parties,
  3. Windpower and CEPOS and their funding,
  4. ExxonMobil adn their funding ?
I will try to make contribution to the Skeptical Alphabet, but I will not organize it. 
Klaus Flemløse, Denmark






2010-08-28 10:48:00Duplicates, administration, etc.


Ann-Marie I was thinking the soundex function in MySQL might suffice for duplicate detection, maybe is good enough for a first stab at any rate. Plus of course we'll have folks bumping into duplicates when citing from the glossary if some escape machine detection.

JR, I agree on trying to use plain English when possible especially in "basic" rebuttals and as you say the linked term could be stuck in brackets for the curious to follow. This glossary would especially help in the cases where a single word mushrooms into a half-dozen, as well as being available for more advanced treatments.

Klaus I believe this glossary/alphabet should work as a collective effort if the tool is sufficiently easy for authors to populate terms as they're working and need arises.

2010-08-30 05:36:16


In my earlier description of this facility I forgot to mention how it would be used by and appear to an actual SkS consumer. Oops.

Words selected by authors from the glossary and employed in their text would appear as text of a subtly different color, providing a hint to readers that a glossary entry is available for the word.

Here we arrive at two possible ways of presenting glossary entries, a floating text box appearing if the reader hovers his/her mouse over the word, or a more generic, scriptless but clunkier small popup window appearing if the reader clicks the hinted word.   

I lean to the former, though a popup could include more advanced content, such as illustrations.

Conversation seems to have trickled to a halt here. JC, would you like me to have a stab at the plumbing for this? If folks want to beta test the thing I could host it, with integration into the main site later. This thread itself could be used for presenting test articles to authors.

2010-08-31 14:08:52go for it!
John Cook


Sounds good, Doug, feel free to start work on this. If you'd like to beta-test on the Skeptical Science, thus giving you access to the user database, you're welcome to - just let me know what you need re passwords.

I like the idea of a floating text box. We use that effect on one of Wendy's websites, partyinvitations.com.au - whenever you mouseover an invitation design, a larger floating picture appears. I can always cannabalise that code for the glossary. And yes, they could include illustrations. Will need to specify some restrictions like maximum size of pics.

2010-08-31 15:10:03

John, would you feel ok w/shooting me the code for the mouseovers? No use building something from scratch, particularly if you're used to dealing w/it. 
2010-09-03 01:49:53Glossary for multiple languages?


Coming from the translators-corner yet again....

Could the glossary be built in a way that it is language-dependent, meaning that it contains the language-code (EN, DE, FR...) somewhere in the key-fields? That would then allow the translators to contribute to the glossary for words which might need some explanation in a specific language. I am for example right now struggling to find a good German word for "hindcasting" but there just doesn't seem to be one. So, the next best thing might be to have an explanation available but to leave the technical term in the text as is.


2010-09-03 06:24:05

Yes that should be possible, Baerbel. Will require a bit more internal plumbing but it's an obvious and necessary requirement now that you've pointed it out. Thank you for mentioning it early; much easier to handle this now rather than later.
2010-09-03 17:32:03Code
John Cook

Doug, just letting you know I haven't forgot about sending you the code - I did some work on the code yesterday, tried to get it into a simpler form for you but then it wouldn't work. So still have to do some debugging.
2010-09-04 00:21:33


Thanks, John! I know you're busy, don't sweat it. Also, bear in mind the real reason most code is not "open source" is because we're too embarrassed to let anybody else see our work. If you want any reassurance in that department, let me know and I can send you some examples of my own crufty crud. :-)

Regarding recycling your popup mechanism I'm strictly thinking about lowering the workload for you by preventing you having to learn some new interfacing methods. So don't spend too much time on cleanup, don't hesitate to spread the load, I can always ask questions!

2010-10-03 03:54:45Comment
Robert Way

how is the glossary coming along anyways?
2010-10-03 05:50:02

It's becoming a little more than a promise now, Robert. I had to set it aside for a little while because of some confounding factors I'll not go into. My ears must have been burning because I see I began working on it again last night  roughly around the time of your post, if I've got the TZ offset right... :-)
2010-10-03 10:18:23


Well, it turns out somebody's already done this, name NSIDC. Implemented in Perl...



2010-10-03 12:00:56NSIDC glossary
John Cook

That's a cool resource. It doesn't preclude us doing it, of course. The whole point of a SkS glossary will be to link the basic rebuttals direct to the glossary, to make our content the ultimate resource for newbies to the climate debate.

Note they also have Russian translations of assorted terms. This is something we can do also, on a much broader scale, having a whole bunch of translators at hand and the ability to create an admin system that makes it very easy for them to create translations. I've gotten used to them sitting up there at the top of the website but having 15 different flags linking to all those different translations is pretty cool.

2010-10-03 14:17:00


Oh, no, I'm plowing ahead! If you go to NSIDC and hit the glossary links there, the definitions come up exactly in the form I'd visualized but I actually don't like their implementation, or that is to say I think it's fine but won't work for us. Using an actual web page for each definition is great -if- definition creation is tightly controlled but it won't work in the collaborative mode we're talking about.

Baerbel straightened me out on how to handle translations before I'd managed to mushroom the thing into a horrible collection of exceptions.


2010-12-21 13:46:24Multiple Terms
Glenn Tamblyn


Sorry to jump in late on this Doug. Sounds really good so far.

One question is how to handle terms that can actually have multiple names or also acronyms. For Example 'Downwelling Longwave Radiation' or 'DWLR' or 'Back Radiation' or 'BR'. And expressions and acronyms that can have different meanings in diffferent contexts.

Coping with these would probably mess up your SQL Schema. Too hard or something to consider?

2011-01-13 06:18:49
John Hartz
John Hartz
The US National Weather Service has an extensive "A to Z" Glossary that could be tapped into. 
2011-07-03 09:38:03What's up doc?
John Hartz
John Hartz

Is this ship dead in the water?

For the record, I strongly believe that SkS should have a Glossary of Scientific Terms. It is an extremely useful tool for the average person -- our primary target audience.

Creating the glossary should be added to to the SkS "To Do" list. It's not a terribly difficult task for someone to take on.

2011-07-13 15:41:59
Same Ordinary Fool


"Create a SkS Glossary of Scientific Terms"...............from the July 12, 2011 TO DO List suggests a scroll-thru(?) back-of-the-textbook-type list of definitions.  While this Forum discussion concerns the pop-up screen presentation of the same (individual) definitions in basic rebuttals.

Whatever, the research and writing necessary for input into the 'pop-ups' can also be re-packaged for useful presentation as an 'A to Z Glossary'.

A to Z Glossary................As the entry for many people into learning climate science, Sksc is also the obvious location for such a look-it-up Glossary.  And, incidentally, it would bring in some more hits to the Sksc website.

I think that it would be fairgame to start out with only "borrowed" definitions, with the source mentioned in parentheses, i.e., (EPA).  And I can imagine including several different definitions to span Sksc's readership:  long/short or less technical vocabulary/more technically precise, or w/ and w/o examples.

I presume that the Sksc authored definitions would be for the basic rebuttals..........Will they be labeled "[basic]" to avoid misinterpretation, if taken out of context?..........Hopefully they'd be just added ahead of the more technical "borrowings", rather than replacing them.

Expanded descriptions will be possible on the more important terms.  The "Forcing" entry should include the complete list of forcings.  For "TSI: there should be mention of its flattening after 1950.

Justification...............I am advocating wholesale word-for-word borrowing of definitions (with attribution) from other sources, But I think that there would be enough value added in the finished product to avoid the criticism of simple stealing.

1.  There's general attribution given.  For further info, the user can Google the quote.

2.  We're not taking them all from the same place.

3.  I'm assuming that there will be not-too-overlapping multiple definitions that are both worth including??

4.  In some cases we will need to look further, to add more comprehensive explanations, such as explaining forcings vs feedbacks

5.  In time, all these will be preceded in the listing by..........a>  The basic pop-up definition...........and b>  Further basic discussion.

6.  I guess I should admit to a disinclination to reinvent the wheel, in the case of technical-vocabulary  technical definitions that have already been vetted.

7.  Links will also be included ..........a>  "Statistical significance" should have a long explanation and a link to the Phil Jones Skeptic Argument..........and b>  "sensistivity" should have links for futher reading, because of its importance.

Abbreviations................Separately, with the Glossary, there should also be included a complete list of technical abbreviations, with their full spellings:  SLR, TSI, etc..  Including international misc:  IPCC, TAR, etc., with the frequently encountered national misc:  NSIDC, CSIRO, CRU, etc..

Going further, nation by nation, [by: USA, CA, AU, NZ, UK, EU...] into areas mostly governmental or organizational seems excessive, when Google can probably find it.  So their inclusion might hinge on the estimated number of resulting hits.  I'd use them, when visiting Deltoid, Hot Topic, or Desmogblog.

When discussing abbreviations, should also consider including texting abbreviations.  Anyone who's come to look up a technical abbreviation would also be prone to looking up an unfamiliar texting abbreviation, maybe encountered in the Comments.  Where to look to find the percentage of people who aren't proficient with texting vocabulary?

...............Two years ago (July 30, 2009) Joe Romm asked his commenters to submit terms to be included in his proposed Glossary.

(Need I mention that my anti-skeptic commenting style is to use quotations whenever possible?)

2011-07-13 17:33:40Some Outsourcing
Glenn Tamblyn


Perhaps a glossary should be bundled into a generalised indexing project - Rebuttals, subjects, alphabetical indexing, Glossary.

It might be worth trying to develop a general blueprint for indexing at SkS that can cover a  range of requirements.

JC is currently the database guru but maybe that can be expanded to include others and develop something more general. In my software days, in a previous life, I always preferred to develop tools to support a  general capability rather endless ad-hoc answers - that works fine but falls in a heap over time as it just gets really really messy. Indexing sounds like something that doesn't really exist at present and offers all sorts of leveraging opportunities.

Although my IT background is more engineering related, with some computer programming language development thrown in, I can find may way fairly well around SQL, not too bad with XML (all that lovely structure) and can't handle HTML to save my life.

Could I offer my services as a database developer for tool type features if others can supply the Web front end stuff.

I understand JC that the database is in MySQL. Is this on a machine at your home or hosted elsewhere? Are you currently set up to allow access from others via VPN or similar?

2011-07-13 18:13:12Hosting
John Cook


My site is hosted on a shared host at ilisys.com.au at Perth. I could set up so you can access the database via PHPMyAdmin - a web based interface. Let me know if this interests you.

With the glossary, if we just decide what fields we want, I could throw up a database in a few minutes and set it up to make it editable in Author Admin quickly enough, just to get the ball rolling. Or if you want to use this as an exercise in getting to know the database, we could go that route instead.

Long term, we seriously need to figure out a way that others can do the PHP/MySQL programming - me being the programming bottleneck is the biggest weight holding SkS back. If we could solve that issue, drum up a few PHP programmers who can keep the web development kicking along, we could really leap forward.

If I get this UQ job I've applied for (I find out if I get the job in a few weeks), that will limit the time I have for programming even further as my time will be focused more on communication issues.

2011-07-13 21:20:29
Ari Jokimäki


Isn't there a possibility to set up your own wiki? Using wiki software there would be no need for additional programming.

2011-07-14 03:35:24Wiki


Speaking of a Wiki: as some of you know, we've been using a workspace provided by pbworks.com to prepare the German translations for SkS. One advantage of a pbworks-workspace as opposed to a "Wiki" á la Wikipedia is that you don't need to understand and use markup-language. Instead, you have an HTML-editor which lets you create content almost as if you were writing a Word-document. Some things like tables do have their challenges but apart from that, the workspaces are really easy to work with. An additional bonus is that you can set up a small workspace - which comes with 2GB of storage - for free and you do have some control over who can see and edit the pages.

If you'd like to poke around a bit, the Klimaschutz-Wiki is open for reading for everybody:


Even if not suitable for everything we might still be able to use such a workspace for collaborative activities without the need for John to program up some pages.

2011-07-15 01:16:52Recommended short term action plan
John Hartz
John Hartz

While we wrestle with the technical issues of implementing a way to link scientific terms and acronyms to defintions, why don't we just bite the bullet and commit to developing the Glossary itself?

Here are the steps needed to get us started:

1, John Cook creates a new SkS webpage for the Glossary. (The webpage would not be public until step #5 is completed.)

2. Dana imports an exisitng glossary from an appropriate international or national organiztion. (There is absolutely no need for us to start from scratch.)

3. SkS authors review the contents of the Glossary and recommend changes where needed. Are the terms/acronymes defined correctly? (The conrtents of any exisitng glossary may be a tad dated.)

4. In parallel with step 3, SkS authors review the contents of the Glossay and recommend additions.

5. Close-out the review/comment period within 30-days. Dana & JC reveiw all recommended changes and additions and revise initital glossary.) 

6. Move the revised Glossary into the public domain -- even if the techy stuff is not fully resovled. Most SkS users will be adroit enough to use a glossary the old-fashioned way.