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Do 80 percent of Scientific American subscribers deny global warming? Hardly


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Readers of the Wall Street Journal may have been surprised by an editorial that appeared Tuesday. We editors at Scientific American certainly were. 

In his opinion piece, techno-utopian intellectual George Gilder takes California’s Silicon Valley to task for its green initiatives to create jobs. At one point, he makes this sloppy claim: 

"Republican politicians are apparently lower in climate skepticism than readers of Scientific American, which recently discovered to its horror that some 80 percent of its subscribers, mostly American scientists, reject man-made global warming catastrophe fears."

First, fewer than 10 percent of our subscribers are scientists. Second, the 80 percent climate denial number is not to be believed.

For that 80 percent figure, I’m guessing Gilder relied on a poll that we created for an October 2010 article on Judith Curry. Question number 3 in particular asked visitors, "What is causing climate change?" The poll results show that 77.8 percent responded "natural processes"; only 26.4 percent picked "greenhouse gases from human activity."

Ignore for the moment that this poll was not scientific (nor was it meant to be) and that it was open to all who have access to the Internet, not just to our subscribers, as Gilder implied.

Rather, the big problem was that the poll was skewed by visitors who clicked over from the well-known climate denier site, Watts Up With That? Run by Anthony Watts, the site created a web page urging users to take the poll.

It sure worked. Our traffic statistics from October 25, when the poll went live, to November 1 (the latest for which we have data on referrals) indicate that 30.5 percent of page views (about 4,000) of the poll came from Watts Up. The next highest referrer at 16 percent was a Canadian blog site smalldeadanimals.com; it consists of an eclectic mix of posts and comments, and if I had to guess, I would say its users leaned toward the climate denier side based on a few comments I saw. Meanwhile, on the other side of the climate debate, Joe Romm’s Climate Progress drove just 2.9 percent and was the third highest referrer. 

So we were horrified alright—by the co-opting of the poll by Watts Up users, who probably voted along the denier plank. In fact, having just two sites drive nearly half the traffic to the poll assuredly means that the numbers do not reflect the attitudes of Scientific American readers. 

I’m not sure what the poll numbers ultimately mean. (The poll also showed that 68 percent think science should be kept out of the political process–when did we officially go back to medieval thinking?) Given how the poll has become meaningless and skewed, I have taken it offline. 

We certainly took our lumps from all sides about this online poll, and we learned from the criticisms and will aim to do better next time. 

And George, if you must know, in another poll of 21,000 readers we conducted earlier this year, 40 percent of respondents said that over the past year they became "more certain that humans are changing climate"; 46 percent said their views were "unchanged" and only 14 percent were "more doubtful that human activity is affecting the climate."

 
Philip Yam
Managing Editor, Online





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  1. 1. jtdwyer 9:04 pm 11/17/2010

    I agree with those who suggested that non-scientific/internet polls are not only useless but, as I hope you’ve realized now, damaging sources of misinformation. I recommend you stop the nonsense.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Trent1492 9:58 pm 11/17/2010

    It so comforting to see so many pseduo-skeptics claiming a vast conspiracy spanning over a century by the world’s geophysicist without a hint of evidence. Why? Because outside that tightly little bubble they operate in they are laughing stocks.

    Here we have a group calling themselves skeptic yet they diligently defend the trillion dollar fossil fuel interests with complete credulity. Amazing.

    Link to this
  3. 3. openeyes999 11:38 pm 11/17/2010

    Global warming deniers need fake polls like this to support their point of view, since the science contradicts them. Here’s a real global warming poll result: approximately 95% of climate scientists believe in human-caused global warming…I guess they must all be part of the massive conspiracy, huh. ;) I’m sure that won’t convince the deniers though; talking to them is like talking to Creationists.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Centaurus-A 6:54 am 11/18/2010

    Again,I wish scientists and like minded people would quit lumping believers in God with climate change deniers! I am a believer and also believe that man has affected the climate not because of ideology but because it is true. These others who try to deny it are not basing their beliefs on fact. The problem with these people is as was pointed out they are out in force trying to go from one blog site to another spreading their propaganda. I know these people well because I go to church with many of these types of people and ride the train with them. It was George W. Bush who started this denial by trying to tie this whole discussion to economic cost. Before GWB most people believed that this was true. That’s the whole thing. It is based on belief and opinion not research. That 2000 election was a key turning point–one of the biggest disasters to have ever occurred politically.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Gray 7:42 am 11/18/2010

    Does it really matter whether climate change is man-made or natural? http://bit.ly/aE2eBF I don’t understand why we keep looking at this shiny object when the only real question is whether we will do anything about it.

    Link to this
  6. 6. supertexan 11:48 am 11/18/2010

    "(The poll also showed that 68 percent think science should be kept out of the political process–when did we officially go back to medieval thinking?) "

    Well you put a ridiculous question with no good responses in the poll. That wasn’t the only one but it was the worst. The fact that you included it shows how far gone you are from science and towards evangalism. Of course science should not be kept out of politics but with the options you gave I found to my disgust that it was the only one I could pick. In fact, I first tried to skip that one and found you had set your poll up in such a way where a question could not be skipped.

    Further, your denial of the results of the poll is just funny. So what if about half the respondents came from webistes that don’t push global warming the way you do? They came from people who are interested in the issue, same as your regular readers. And do the math, if you take out the percentages that came from those sites you still wind up losing. But keep pretending the result doesn’t matter if you want. We all know how you would have touted the results of that poll had it come in in your favor.

    Link to this
  7. 7. supertexan 1:00 pm 11/18/2010

    Trent your bit is getting old. If you can’t argue with your opponents’ position pretending he said something else doesn’t cut it. Better to not post anything and wait for somebody smarter to come along and handle it.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Trent1492 1:33 pm 11/18/2010

    @Super Texan,

    "Trent your bit is getting old. If you can’t argue with your opponents’ position pretending he said something else doesn’t cut it. Better to not post anything and wait for somebody smarter to come along and handle it."

    Your position is completely irrational. Any one who thinks that internet polls are a legitimate means of surveying opinions deserves all the ridicule they receive. The absurdity of this position demonstrated by the Atheist blog Pharyngula that routinely sends it out its readers to totally tilt the results. Should I show you all the various polls they have skewered or are you going to take the position that all internet polls are legitimate? Inquiring minds want to know.

    P.S Some science denier is regularly reporting in my post as abusive and Scientific American mindlessly deletes it. No surprise there.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Trent1492 2:18 pm 11/18/2010

    @Super Texan,

    Did you read the article? I wonder because in the article it says such things as:

    "And George, if you must know, in another poll of 21,000 readers we conducted earlier this year, 40 percent of respondents said that over the past year they became "more certain that humans are changing climate"; 46 percent said their views were "unchanged" and only 14 percent were "more doubtful that human activity is affecting the climate."

    Comments?

    Link to this
  10. 10. noretreat 3:04 pm 11/18/2010

    Garbage in, garbage out is pretty widely known. How could you have forgotten it when setting up an obviously biased poll?

    Link to this
  11. 11. supertexan 3:29 pm 11/18/2010

    "Your position is completely irrational. Any one who thinks that internet polls are a legitimate means of surveying opinions deserves all the ridicule they receive."

    yeah that’s not my position. You plainly just skimmed my post, which I don’t blame you for, but you didn’t get my point. My point was that it is what it is, SA put it up for a reason and it it wasnt because they don’t see any value in these polls. They only started to not see value in it when they got a result they didn’t want. If they had gotten the "right" results you can bet that they wouldn’t now be complaining about the respondents or how they found the poll. So I don’t deserve your ridicule over a position I don’t have. You deserved mine though for your silly and snide response, the one that got deleted. This one was better though and I appreciate you taking it up a notch, even if you didn’t pay attention to what I said and continued to misrepresent my comment.

    And further, regarding your post getting deleted, that stinks and ruins a good board. It has happened to me here a great many times. I always figured it was because whatever intern patrols these boards was just doing it willy-nilly on anything he didn’t like because I’m always in here making fun of the magazine and their ridicuous preaching about GW. I guess you are right though and it is our opponents on either side that do it.

    Link to this
  12. 12. MidWest101 4:25 pm 11/18/2010

    Why even do these polls? They are too easily corrupted and are never scientific. They only offer foder for one side or the other. I encourage this website to stop the practice. Or at least see what the readers think. How about a poll on this topic? :-)

    Link to this
  13. 13. Marcello09 4:31 pm 11/18/2010

    Isn’t the first rule of journalism "check your work"? It’s a shame that no-one at the Wall Street Journal bothers to do so, even when it’s as simple as picking up a phone and asking "Hey, is this true?"

    Which explains a thing or two about the current financial crisis, I suppose…

    Link to this
  14. 14. desotojohn 5:04 pm 11/18/2010

    Do 80 percent of Scientific American subscribers deny global warming?

    The only way to really find out is to do your own scientific survey. This article amounted to arm waving and denial.

    Climatologists could help their case by simply publishing the source data for their studies.

    Link to this
  15. 15. aarons 5:33 pm 11/18/2010

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    When I was first starting out designing for the Web, I remember a fellow designer telling me building for the Web was easy. They forgot to add the remainder of the sentence, "to do badly".

    Your results and the manner in which they were used by others were a direct result of a poorly planned process. The web does not work the same way a survey in a print magazine does. It is not, nor will it ever be limited to your readership, or a broad cross section of the public.

    I would suggest putting the same thought, time, and money into your surveys as your articles. They’re both going to attract equal attention on the web both by participants and those quoting it. Offer fluff, unscientific polls open to anyone and you get exactly the kind of results as the effort put into it.

    Link to this
  16. 16. supertexan 6:19 pm 11/18/2010

    Another thing, Yam points to their October 2010 poll for proof that this poll was no good. i’m not sure it helps him as much as he thinks it does. In that poll the results are celebrated! Not one word about the poll being unscientific or the respondents being from the wrong websites. SA got the replies that they wanted so all you will see that the results are taken very seriously and analyzed closely by country. This time SA gets a result they don’t want, now suddenly web polls are no good and completely unscientific.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Trent1492 7:29 pm 11/18/2010

    @super Texan,

    Now you are claiming you never said the following:

    "But keep pretending the result doesn’t matter if you want. We all know how you would have touted the results of that poll had it come in in your favor."

    The back arrow it works. So do the internet poll results matter or not? Texan, why are so immune to science and logic?

    Why is it you never actually address the evidence? I am pretty darn sure you are clueless as to what that evidence actually is.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Trent1492 7:50 pm 11/18/2010

    @Desoto John,

    "Climatologists could help their case by simply publishing the source data for their studies."

    You do realize that data is out there and available on the Internet? No, of course you do not other wise why would you say such a profoundly ignorant thing? Here let Google be you friend:

    Just a sampling of what is out there:

    NOAA Raw Temp Data:
    ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ghcn/v2/

    World Monthly Surface Station Climatology

    http://dss.ucar.edu/datasets/ds570.0/

    Satellite Temps:

    AMSU:
    http://amsu.cira.colostate.edu/

    Solar Irradiance Levels:

    http://mirador.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/mirador/presentNavigation.pl?tree=project&project=SORCE

    You did know that sun’s solar output has been measured for decades and that it has been holding steady for decades and even has even declined slightly? Yet, temps keep on climbing.

    Sea Float Data:
    http://www.marine.csiro.au/~ttchen/argo/gmap.htm

    Tide Gauge Data:
    http://www.pol.ac.uk/ntslf/data.html

    Aerosol Data:
    http://aeronet.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    Glacial Data:
    http://www.geo.unizh.ch/wgms/dataexp.html

    Starting to get the idea? All of this found via Google in less than seven minutes. So it is pretty clear to me that you have swallowed fossil fuel propaganda without a hint of skepticism. Pretty sad really.

    Link to this
  19. 19. desotojohn 9:29 pm 11/18/2010

    Ok, I followed your suggestion, only I used the search words ‘Climategate, source and data.’ Bing returned 106,000 hits. Try adding the word Hide to your search.

    Good scientists share their data and don’t hide behind ‘peer’ reviews of like minded scientists. Have you read the leaked Climategate emails? Bashing skeptics will not help restore the credibility of this honorable profession. If you want to be taken seriously the only answer is open and honest communication.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Trent1492 9:41 pm 11/18/2010

    @Desotojohn,

    "Ok, I followed your suggestion, only I used the search words ‘Climategate, source and data.’ Bing returned 106,000 hits. Try adding the word Hide to your search."

    So the only thing you accomplished is that have shown that their 106,000 hits repeating fossil fuel propaganda. No where do you link to the actual stolen E-Mail. I wonder why?

    Now why you think that trying for a transparent distraction like the above is going to make everyone forget that a few minutes of a Internet search reveals the lie that scientist have not released the data is beyond me. Do you think that the readers of these comments are afflicted with ADD or something?

    Now why do not just admit that you swallowed a easily refuted lie and that the data is out there?

    Link to this
  21. 21. Trent1492 9:44 pm 11/18/2010

    Sigh, This:

    "The only thing you accomplished is that have shown that their 106,000 hits repeating fossil fuel propaganda. No where do you link to the actual stolen E-Mail. I wonder why?"

    Should read:

    The only thing you have accomplished is that you have shown that 106,000 hits repeats fossil fuel propaganda.

    Link to this
  22. 22. PD 1:35 am 11/19/2010

    So Scientific American is now suppressing poll results when they don’t agree with its political leanings?

    How even-handed.

    Thank you for giving ammunition to those who say that AGW advocates habitually bury inconvenient data.

    Link to this
  23. 23. BoolySpark 10:38 am 11/19/2010

    Scientific American conducts a poll. The results of which are contrary to what Philip Yam would like.
    Scientific American than disputes its own poll and Mr. Yam takes it offline claiming lessons learned.

    Then Mr. Yam quotes a previous poll with results more agreeable as accurate. What happen to the lessons learned?

    This is typical of the whole climate change discussion and the loss of public confidence for the position of human participation and solution. Believers are perceived to use facts that are made to suit the position and if they do not, then they change the facts (or remove them). While "expert" believers attempt to profit from confusion, deniers are left with only commonsense as a guide.

    Perhaps the lesson learned here is not on how to conduct a public poll but how to get the desired result from same.

    Link to this
  24. 24. supertexan 12:02 pm 11/19/2010

    Trent1492 one of three things is happening. You are either misrepresenting my comments on purpose, or pretending you don’t understand what words mean, or you didnt actually read what I wrote. Here are my suggestions to you. If you don’t care enough about what I type to read it thats great, that puts you in the company of 6 billion other people. Just dont pretend that you did read it and misrepresent what’s there. If you do care about what I wrote and want to understand my point then read it and have a dictionary handy so you can understand it. Whatever you do, DON’T come back and say that my position is that online polls are scientific and reliable because you will make my head explode with lie if you sling it at me again and I’m sure you dont want that on your conscience.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Telrunya 12:13 pm 11/19/2010

    While there is no doubt that the poll was next to useless as far as determining what people actually think of climate change; yea or nae, I am not so quick to dismiss the sentiment. More and more people are becoming aware that drastic climate change is not and has not been limited to earth. More and more people are becoming aware of sunspot activity and how it has matched the warming and cooling periods here on earth and other planets in our solar system. Why is it relavent? Because some people are using climate change to push their Malthusian agenda with draconic implimentation of policies and laws that have little to no impact on the climate. Yes Climate change is happening, has always happened, sometimes swiftly, sometimes gradually. Long before man was capible of being a factor, climate change was happening. Can and should we do things to be energy independant? Can and should we do things to beautify our world and limit our impact on the environment? Absolutely!! But we should do it within reason and for the right reasons. We should do it without the Malthusian tactics of currency manipulation and starting wars and food controls to spark famines to drive down the world population numbers. More and more people are becoming aware of these things and turning their backs on the Man Made Climate Change rhetoric. For those who are genuinly concerned about climate change and how we should and need to adapt to survive it, polls like what was here in Sci/Am should be a wake up call that if they continue with the Man Made portion of the climate change debate, they will loose the war for the principle of the battle by increasing the numbers of deniers in droves.

    Link to this
  26. 26. Trent1492 12:38 pm 11/19/2010

    "Chicken Littles, basically want the human species, the only "intelligent" life on the planet, to give up all that makes us human and retreat to living in hovels, crammed in tightly controlled mega zoos, a new, docile species with our tails between our legs. they want to dismantle the industrial base back to medieval proportions, conserve dwindling resources back to the stone age, and force a collapse of the population, possibly risking even the disappearance of the species..,:

    The above quote is another example of alarmist hysteria perpetuated by the pseduo-skeptics.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Trent1492 12:40 pm 11/19/2010

    @SuperTexan,

    "Trent1492 one of three things is happening…"

    No one of four things: I am telling the truth.

    Link to this
  28. 28. Trent1492 12:42 pm 11/19/2010

    @Telrrunya,

    You do realize that solar irradiance has been measured for decades and no change has been observed and even a slight decline has been recorded. I wonder why you lot are so ignorant of these basic facts?

    Link to this
  29. 29. Lycos 3:51 pm 11/19/2010

    Back to Philip Yam’s apologia, two things to mention. One was already said and one now.

    First, how come SA was so excited when the results did fit into its dogma and now it disclaims the new poll as unscientific? Remember the link Yam himself provided? "In Science We Trust: Poll Results on How You Feel about Science. Our Web survey of readers suggests that the scientifically literate public <blah blah>" Suddenly these are not scientifically literate readers anymore, suddenly the poll is meaningless…

    Which brings me to the second point. OK, so 50% of the responders were "raiders." Good. Let’s assume ALL of them voted not how they "should have voted" and are not "scientifically literate" (yeah, right). So what? Instead of 4:1 non-believers, now we have 3:2 non-believers in AGW, now according to Mr. Yam’s own definition of "good" and "scientifically literate" readers. Makes you happier, Mr. Yam?

    For shame!

    Link to this
  30. 30. Dr. Strangelove 10:50 pm 11/19/2010

    Dear editors,

    Why are you ‘horrified’ that 80% of your readers are non-believers of AGW but proud that 40% are believers based on previous survey? Both surveys are unscientific. You could just said both surveys are inaccurate. It is permissible for editors to be biased but don’t make it too obvious. You have to be fair in journalism.

    Btw, if you take out the 30% from Watts Up users, the ratio of non-believers vs. believers is still 2:1 (50/26) This is a complete reversal from the earlier survey where believers dominate 3:1 (40/14)

    Where are the 8,400 believers (40% of 21,000) in the earlier survey? I can only surmise that after reading the Judith Curry article, they changed their mind and became non-believers or did not vote. I guess it is horrifying to realize your readers are deserting your fanatical belief.

    Link to this
  31. 31. lakota2012 12:55 am 11/23/2010

    "Rather, the big problem was that the poll was skewed by visitors who clicked over from the well-known climate denier site, Watts Up With That? Run by Anthony Watts, the site created a web page urging users to take the poll."
    =========================

    Watts Up With Watts?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcxVwEfq4bM&feature=related

    Link to this
  32. 32. 2008RealityCheck 4:28 pm 11/23/2010

    Such poor journalism exhibited in this article.

    Break up the issue into parts.

    Is global warming happening?
    If so, is it caused by CO2, or other factors, or a combination?
    If GW is happening, is mankind primarily responsible?
    If so, can mankind significantly change the outcome?
    If so, will the outcome be better or worse than not doing anything.

    The author makes the mistake of equating those who deny GW is happening, with the scientifically literate who believe it may be occurring but it is NOT a catastrophe.

    My own opinion is that global temperatures change due to a variety of reasons. But I like increased levels of CO2 because I believe our planet, and humanity, prosper with increased plant life. But then I’m biased. I have 124 acres of timber and I know they grow better and faster with elevated CO2.

    I also know that politicians have made very bad decisions about how to reduce GW. Their using scarce taxpayer resources to turn food into fuel is among the most idiotic of schemes. It consumes MORE power, generates MORE pollution and global warming gases, raises food prices, damages more marginal farmland, and damages or destroys much of our legacy equipment which leads to more landfill use and manufacturing of replacement machines and vehicles.

    Link to this
  33. 33. Ma'aji Caleb Zonkwa 2:31 am 11/24/2010

    Too Bad for the doubting Thomas’s and relaying on the NET. History have shown us that Noah had Gilder type really on cheap propagation’s before the major flood and it was obvious some lost their live. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as in the Bible also had his type because people did not listen to the voice of change in behaviour. Science has to tolerate his type after all he is dam looking for supportive votes to remain where he is.

    Link to this
  34. 34. Ma'aji Caleb Zonkwa 2:45 am 11/24/2010

    @Trent1492, please review all your proposals it seem you are off tract.

    Link to this
  35. 35. Professor Ferret 12:25 pm 11/24/2010

    The average IQ of Americans is now about 50. Perhaps China has been discretely sending lead tainted toys to them for years and now it has taken its toll. Anthony Watts should take his head and put it under a freight train wheel to relieve his ignorance. Wouldn’t it be great is he could actually read the numbers and understand the reports? Sadly, he is just another college flunky that should move to Alaska and destroy genetic diversity by shooting bears from helicopters. Good going Anthony, you are a moron! The Wall Street journal shows about as much concern over these articles as they do about the Wall Street hedge fund scam artists the are profession con men!

    Link to this

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