Web traffic statistics and Cargo Cult Worlds

WattsUpWithThat hypes itself with most discredited web metric (hits!) and keeps smearing scientists while demanding others “dial back the rhetoric” – The NYT’s Virginia Heffernan now “regrets” being duped by Watts
[Via Climate Progress]

As long as Anthony Watts keeps a website “hits” counter on his sidebar and keeps bragging that his hits are evidence of his blog’s popularity, that will provide the most irrefutable evidence of his innumeracy and his willful statistical deception.

One thing is very safe to say about any quantitative analysis you see from Anthony Watts: It is, with high-probability, pure BS. See, for instance, Wattergate: Tamino debunks “just plain wrong” Anthony Watts.

Worse, Watts has, perhaps more than any other leading anti-science blogger, viciously smeared climate scientists and others. Yet in a post touting the most meaningless statistic on the web — his 50 millionth hit — he has the nerve to write, “I’m really growing tired of the vociferous and voluminous name calling and people bashing, on both sides. It’s palpable.” What’s palpable is his hypocrisy.

On Memorial Day, for instance, Watts directly questioned the patriotism of both Tamino and Rabett (see “Peak readership for anti-science blogs?“) leading Tamino to write, “This just might be the most loathsome thing Watts has yet done with his blog.”

Watts also keeps reposting the disinformation of The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, even though TVMOB is the leading purveyor of outright hate speech among the disinformers (see Lord Monckton repeats and expands on his charge that those who embrace climate science are “Hitler youth” and fascists). Since he reposted TVMOB a number of times last month alone, one can only assume he fully supports TVMOB’s methods. Indeed, after Prof. John Abraham eviscerated TVMOB in a must-see video, Watts reposted a shameless effort by TVMOB to “censor” Abraham, as Skeptical Science noted. Deltoid put it this way: “Monckton, supported by Anthony Watts, is trying to suppress Abraham’s presentation. Over at Watts Up with That? Monckton defames Abraham and asks for help in suppressing Abraham’s speech.”

But this is standard operating procedure for Watts.

Last year he demanded YouTube take down a Peter Sinclair video debunking him. Then he defended his effort to censor Sinclair’s video, by saying he was “doing him a favor — no, seriously, you can’t make this stuff up, unless you’re a professional disinformer, like Watts.   Fortunately, Anthony Watts knows even less about copyright laws than he does about climate science, if that’s possible, and YouTube quickly put the video backup.

But Watts tries to fool people with charts and pretty pictures and phony why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along talk. And as we’ll see he duped New York Times online media critic Virginia Heffernan into recommending WUWT in the NYT magazine today “For science that’s accessible but credible, steer clear of polarizing hatefests.” At least Heffernan walked back this recommendation on line before the article was even published (see here).

But first, back to the absurd 50 millionth hit claim, which by itself is prima facie evidence that Watts doesn’t know the first thing about analysis. In his July 29th post, “A cool 50 million“:

WUWT reached a new milestone with 50 million unique hits on the WordPress hit counter (in the right sidebar) early this morning….

No other climate related blog has a 50 million hit number. Some, like Joe Romm try to claim the numbers don’t matter, or try to claim that some other number matters more. But (and it’s a big one) he doesn’t show his own number counter. At least RC does.

Memo to Anthony Watts: Not “some,” but everyone who knows anything about web statistics knows hits are a meaningless and deceptive measure of site popularity. Oh, and ClimateProgress had more than 50 million hits this year alone (see below)!

[Sound of Watts feverishly using Google to find one credible Web analytics expert who thinks Hits are anything more than what an anagram of the word ‘hits’ would suggest!]

No serious blogger quotes their “hits” as a measure of traffic, let alone any who pride themselves on their knowledge of statistics. Indeed, since Watts obviously reads this blog, he knows that back in March, in a post titled, “Hits charade: WattsUpWithThat hypes itself with dubious webstats, while lowballing other blogs,” I quoted a typical explanation of just what Hits are, “Hits, Page Views, Visitors and Visits Demystified,” which concludes “It is evident it does not make a lot of sense to count Hits.” So, of course, it is the perfect metric for the top anti-science website in the country. It’s interesting that not one of his commenters have bothered to tell him this!


WattsUpWithThat has a history of using misleading information to drive its narrative, so I would guess quoting nonsensical statistics would be par for the course. The Climate Progrss article provides several nice links to misleading posts discussing misrepresenting the facts.

And Joe also makes a statement that embodies the thoughts of many of us who base out views on facts, not untruths:

It is simply amazing that a man who puts so little faith in actual, verified, reproducible temperature statistics puts his entire professional credibility on dubious and/or utterly un-reproducible web stats that he keeps on his sidebar.

That is the hallmark of Cargo Cult approaches to the world around us. They do not believe verifiable objective data but hold on tight to all sorts of woo. Read Respectful Insolence to see some really great examples of woo thinking with respect to medicine. Climate Progress sped a similar amount of time dealing with the woo of climate change.

Woo thinking is critical in the construction of many Cargo Cult Worlds. There are many tricks and illusions to try and hide the truth, to manipulate objective facts regarding the world around us, in order to create and sustain narratives that only slightly resemble reality. Like magicians, the purpose is to distract us from what is really going on.

Places such as WattsUpWithThat are experts at these approaches, seeming to appear as normal disseminators of fact while they actually spread a fair amount of misinformation. The masters of these techniques appear in many places, making untruths appear as reasonable as verifiable facts.

But all they really want to create a simulacrum of reality

The wooden airplanes they help build will not actually be able to carry them aloft. In the long run, truth and Nature win.

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