Reading skeptical comments threads (fabricated by alarmists) will make you stupid

It wasn’t my intention of blogging about the recent Cook/Lubos controversy, but it evolved in a rather interesting way, that I couldn’t resist dedicating a blog post to it (maybe even two).

First some background. Last Wednesday Luboš Motl wrote a blog post Identity theft: the thief of Lubos_Motl turns out to be a well-known man about John Cook using the handle “Lubos_Motl” on the SkS “private” forum.

Motl’s article was the first that I read in that regard and it seemed to me that he took it with a healthy dose of humor. Motl and Cook are not exactly best friends. John Cook wrote on SkS a list of Global Warming & Climate Change Myths (I have to admit that I used that list quite often when I was looking for information on global warming in the early days – shame on me) and Luboš Motl then wrote a rebuttal of every point on that list (I later read this list with even more pleasure – it turned out all right after all). The whole controversy came when Motl found out John Cook using the handle “Lubos_Motl”, apparently made comments on a (skeptical looking) blog post (but written by Cook himself) in a way that Motl personally wouldn’t do. In fact misrepresenting his ideas.

Motl seemed to realize his name was used on a, ahem, private forum. He even made some jokes about Cook finding “a simply clever way to raise his IQ by 60 points” and “if they used his identity, why not sending their grants too”. Okay, I can’t read anyone’s mind, but from the way the article was written, it was my impression he wasn’t too much bothered by it (although maybe concerned about where his name was further used). The article was well written and well investigated and I could certainly agree with the last two paragraphs of his article.

On skeptical blogs, the focus seemed to be primarily on the “Identity Theft”, as if libel was involved. It didn’t look that way to me and was initially not that interested, but when Barry Woods on WUWT jumped in with some background on the situation, my interest was raised. The use of that handle was part of their “blog experiment” in their lab with “UWA cognitive scientists”:

I’ve been conducting a psychological experiment with UWA cognitive scientists testing for the effects of blog comments on readers’ comprehension. The first stage of the experiment was live on SkS and we’ve analysed the data and found that for a warmist blog post, there was no difference in reader comprehension when the reader was exposed to all warmist comments or no comments. However, when the reader was exposed to all skeptic comments, their comprehension dropped.

So it’s officially been quantified – reading the comments threads on denier blogs will make you stupid.

Anyway, we’re now moving onto stage 2 of the experiment – they’re going to conduct a similar experiment in the lab at UWA but with a twist – they’re going to have 4 conditions:

  1. Warmist blog post, all warmist comments
  2. Warmist blog post, all skeptic comments
  3. Skeptic blog post, all warmist comments
  4. Skeptic blog post, all skeptic comments

You’ve already seen and been horrified by my hideously evil skeptic blog post. I’m now asking SkSers to perform duties even more arduous – I need you to embrace your inner-climate-denier and post skeptic comments avidly supporting the denier post. Specifically, we need 10 comments for each condition. So it only really requires a handful of SkSers going into the 4 conditions (linked above) and interact with each other, either wholeheartedly embracing and endorsing the post or vigorously criticising and nitpicking it. We will then take the 4 conditions into the lab and see what impact they have on reader comprehension, see if it confirms our first result.

Note: we’ll of course change the names in the lab experiment so your comments will be anonymous and it won’t be shown as an SkS post either.

So many thanks in advance for helping us out with our experiment :-)

“Reading the comments threads on denier blogs will make you stupid”, that sound interesting! Knowing in which way other of his investigations were conducted, my immediate reaction was to look for the design of this “experiment” and whether their conclusion really can come from that design. Apparently Cook encouraged his colleagues of skepticalscience.com to fabricate skeptical looking comments on a skeptical looking post created by himself.

It is not really clear what the actual design was, but if they also did the same thing in the first part of their experiment, then at best they could come to the conclusion that “reading skeptical comments threads fabricated by alarmists will make you stupid” or something like that.

The same thing with the second stage of their “experiment”. Whatever comes out as the conclusion, it will not necessarily have anything to do with the effects of reading “skeptical” comments. If they were fabricating the skeptical post and comments themselves, then they didn’t study skeptical comments at all, but comments that are perceived as skeptical by alarmists. Plus, it is not very honest to (misre)present their own comments as if they were made by skeptics.

I can imagine vividly how their own comments would be more reasonable constructed than their “skeptical” comments. The difference would then not be from the merits of the comments alone, but from the bias of the investigators (who are know advocates).

But that is of course not how they will frame the results of their experiment to the public of course…

Don’t understand me wrong. I don’t want to explain away the use of the name of one’s opponent. I think it is not really smart to do so and also not ethical. But there are many problems with this experiment and the use of the lubos-handle is the least of them.

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2 thoughts on “Reading skeptical comments threads (fabricated by alarmists) will make you stupid

  1. Leo Morgan

    Your link to Lubo’s rebuttals gives me a 404 error. Can you post it here? Or for preference, and sorry for the inconvenience, email it to me?

    Reply

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