Anthony Watts and Defensive Reasoning: Three Episodes

Over the last year, I’ve had numerous blogospheric encounters with the conservative climate “skeptic” Anthony Watts, the author of WattsUpWithThat. In the process, I’ve been particularly struck by how Watts handles inconvenient evidence.

Twice now, I’ve seen Watts make a mistake, and then seem to rationalize it, rather than simply correct it. I’ve also seen Watts shift the goalposts, refusing to accept inconvenient evidence even after saying he would do so.

What’s up with that?

Look: We all make mistakes. And we all adopt beliefs that later turn out to be incorrect.  There's nothing wrong with that per se; it's actually quite natural. What really matters is what we do after we’re proven wrong. So let’s see what Watts does:

Research on Astroturfing. A while back, I introduced the blogosphere to a social science study on online anti-global warming astroturfing. Watts then leapt in, accusing the researchers of having “setup fake websites to gather fake data.”

I have no idea how Watts got his idea about the researchers setting up fake public websites. But it was incorrect. The researchers were not creating fake sites that could deceive unknowing web surfers. They were showing sites to research subjects in a lab setting–and of course, debriefing them afterwards, in line with standard procedures.

But the sites were not actually online, live for the world to view.

I pointed this out, and noted with some amusement that Watts and his commenters had been slamming the study based on a basic misconception–barking up the wrong tree repeatedly, until somebody on the thread bothered to read the actual paper. 

Watts then responded by further defending himself—implying it was the study authors’ fault that he had misinterpreted them, because they didn’t use the actual word “Intranet”:

Note the word “website”, which appears 56 times in the full paper. The word “Internet” appears once, in the bibliography, and the word “Intranet” does not appear in the paper at all. Why wouldn’t they mention that the study was conducted on a private Intranet and not on the World Wide Web?

Answer: because it is obvious, to anyone reading the study or familiar with such research, that this is a controlled experiment in a laboratory setting, in which research subjects are shown something on a computer screen but not pointed to an actual live URL.

Watts then quickly found another reason to bash the study:

In other words, they didn’t study websites in the wild, but copied wild ones and manufactured “tame” ones of their own design that never left the lab.

There would be some serious control problems with such a “live” experiment…not to mention potentially lending some strength to Watts’ initial complaint about the risk of deceiving unwitting web surfers!

Note the underlying point here. Watts launched a baseless attack on the astroturfing study. When his error was pointed out, he tried to blame the study authors, and came up with new criticisms, including protesting that they should have conducted the study in a way that he himself had previously claimed would have been deceptive and misleading, or even unethical.

On to episode two:

The BEST Study. I just wrote about this one, and it is quite telling.

A while back, Anthony Watts wrote of the headline-grabbing Berkeley BEST study that “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.

But when the study came out and he didn’t like its findings, Watts instead engaged in  a phenomenon called goalpost shifting. Look at how he now talks about the BEST work: In a recent post, he referred to the “incomplete and rushed, non quality controlled, error riddled BEST science.” 

Are we noting a common theme here?

On to episode three:

The Republican Brain: My next book will not be out for about 6 months. Nevertheless, much like the Astroturf study, Watts attacked it without reading it. He justified doing so by claiming that someone else had reviewed the book, so he could rely on that review instead:

Chris Mooney has come up with new book to explain why people like you and I are “abby-normal” for not unthinkingly and uncritically accepting all aspects of global warmingclimate change climate disruption. I haven’t read it, though the cover itself speaks volumes. I won’t commit the same dumb mistake that Igor Peter Gleick committed when he wrote his bogus non-review of Donna LaFramboise’s IPCC book, so I’ll let somebody who has reviewed it speak about it. Dr. Roger Pielke Jr.

But this was incorrect—Roger Pielke, Jr., had not reviewed my book, nor could he have because my book is not out. So Watts basically did commit the “dumb mistake” he was claiming he wouldn’t commit.

I pointed this out. So Did Watts then say, “Whoops, sorry”? Or did he come up with more reasons to criticize me?

The proof is here. Read it for yourself.

Why is all of this significant?

If you can’t admit it when you’re wrong, you also can’t know when you’re right.  If you don’t hold your opinions and beliefs tentatively, subject them to scrutiny, and then try to parse out which of them truly hold weight, then you run the risk of rushing headlong into all manner of self-serving biases.

And please note: This has nothing to do with whether or not you’re smart. Smart people (like Watts) are in fact particularly vulnerable to this problem, because they’re extra good at rationalizing their views. Even as they’re super awesome at finding apparent problems with the arguments of those who disagree with them, and arguing back against their opponents, they're often oblivious of their own biases.

But it doesn’t matter how many great arguments you can spin out to defend what you believe, if you can’t also perceive where your beliefs might be untrue. Without self criticism, all your self-supporting arguments amount to little more than spinning your wheels–while you remain stuck in the mud.


Part of it is being and enjoying being a media or a new media personality. Watts is looked to for his instant and educated opinion on everything related to climate and so there is a constant need to react and take a position as an authority figure of sorts and then to defend those opinions. I’m sure the same phenomenon applies about equally to desmog writers.

Chris, your analysis is excellent, but I think you make a mistake in assuming that Watts and his followers actually care about the truth.  They’re only interested in “rooting for the home team”, right or wrong.

WTFUW working at Fox Anthony?

Surface = here is your shipment of fail sir.


fox is just an automatic dirty word around here isn’t it. What if it turns out to be just another news and opinion network that isn’t actually out to destroy the universe? 


4. Global terrestrial temperature data are gravely compromised because more than three-quarters of the 6,000 stations that once existed are no longer reporting.
5. There has been a severe bias towards removing higher-altitude, higher-latitude, and rural stations, leading to a further serious overstatement of warming.

This claim has been utterly and completely debunked by a number of “citizen scientists” on the web.  In fact, the claim is so easy to debunk that it’s almost embarrassing.  All you have to do is compute global-average temperature anomalies for all stations vs. just the stations still reporting data.  Do that, and you will see that the results are almost identical.  This is something that on-the-ball students could do in their second-semester C++/Java/whatever programming class.  It just isn’t that difficult at all.

But in spite of these facts, Anthony Watts has yet to retract (or apologize for) making those embarrassingly easy to disprove claims.

The bottom line is, “Defensive Reasoning” boils down to “incompetence plus dishonesty”.

WUWT won “Best Science Blog” award while Desmog biggest claim to fame is that it has almost as many paid propoganda writers as Joe Romm’s “Think Progress” site.

We all know there are some questionable claims made on both sides of the AGW argument but they by far more numerous and beyond belief from the warmist camp, ok?

WUWT ‘best science blog’.  

Well it’s perfectly possible to gold-plate a turd, but that doesn’t mean it’s made of gold.

You are obviously easily fooled.

Romm and most if not all of his assertions at climate progress are backed up by solid data, facts and obsevations that NASA, NOAA, National Academy of Sciences the IPCC, IEA and others give regarding global warming.

The IEA- a very conservative organization said November 9th we have a few years left to keep global warming to a maxiumum of ‘2 degrees C’  above the  pre-industrial level.

Watts is with Glen Beck- that alone basically disqualifies him from any serious discussion on global warming. Watts was a TV Station weatherman- does this mean he knows more then the aformentioned organizations above? Or do they all represent ‘warmests? And Watts has solid credentials on climate science?

1) Anthony Watts & Willis Eschenbach trying to hold up & stifle scientific investigation by CRU- Hadley by spamming FOI = Fail

2) Posting dozens of times ( without peer reviewed evidence) about the failure of scientists to account for the UHI, then having NOAA issue an official slap down, basically saying he didn’t know what he was talking about = Fail

3) Anthony Watts filing a DMCA to silence Peter Sinclair = Fail

4) Anthony Watts attempt to stop this video = Fail

5) Running weekly reports on the arctic & downplaying ice loss, while every scientific institution said the opposite = Fail

6) Hedging your bets while being a managing member of an electric car company ZEV2Go = Fail

7) Pretending you are not a political anti science blog which is unbiased, while working for an AM radio station with Fox news affiliation & Fox news stars. Plus Butte county Republican party = Fail

8) The irony of an anti science blog, winning a science blog award, voted on via online polling, by non scientists, not dawning on him or his readers = Fail

9) Having actual scientists pointing out your constant mistakes, misnomers & propaganda with ever increasing frequency, while you continue to repeat the same rubbish over & over = Fail


But of course hard core deniers, liars and discombobulators will continue to ‘get their own back’.

Watts is just continuing to dig his hole, at the same time making sure it is big enough for Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, Monckton, D’Aleo, Bastardi and a number of others who’s names are too tedious to mention.