The Trump Effect – Making Lemonade from Lemons

Posted on 13 June 2017 by BaerbelW

It may just be me but I get the distinct impression that – “thanks” to Donald Trump’s ill-advised and shortsighted decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement – people have been hearing a lot more about climate change since June 1.

As one datapoint, the topic got a lot of coverage on German TV on June 2 with for example about 8 out of 15 minutes dedicated to it in the main news at 8pm or 10 minutes out of 30 at 10pm. There has also been a lot of coverage in the international press as shown in this very helpful CarbonBrief analysis which lets you select articles by various attributes: Global reaction: Trump pulls US out of Paris Agreement on climate change

We can also tell that there seems to be more interest in the topic by looking at the statistics for visits to Skeptical Science. We for example had 48,000+ and 57,000+ unique visitors on June 1 and 2 respectively which is more than twice as many as we have on average and between 3 and 4 times more than on those days a year ago.

One area where we’ve been keeping very close tabs are the daily views for our rebuttals and by now, we have collected more than 49,000 datapoints for them since the beginning of 2017. The “Trump effect” is clearly visible when looking at the number of rebuttal views from mid-May to early June:

Figure 1: Number of views for each rebuttal across the different levels available (basic, intermediate and advanced). Shown are only rebuttals with at least 500 views on a given day. The big outlier is the rebuttal for “there’s no consensus”.

Here are some other highlights captured in early June (so the data goes up to June 2). You can see the larger version of the graphics by clicking on them. The top-most viewed rebuttals are calculated by adding up the views of all three available levels basic, intermediate and advanced for each month:

Top23-RebuttalsFigure 2 – top-most viewed rebuttals: consensus, sun, model, impacts, past, CO2, greenhouse, thermo, evidence, volcano, lag, Antarctica, vapor, iceage, warming, sealevel, 1998, temp, correlate, albedo, cooling, seapredict1970s

Things get really interesting when looking at some of these rebuttals in more detail. In some cases it has also been possible to track down where a specific spike has been coming from, like e.g. a Tweet or an article. The most recent upsurge however seems to be mostly attributable to Trump’s decision as it’s happening for various rebuttals and not just individual ones.

Here is a sample of rebuttals with very distinct spikes at the end of May and beginning of June:

SnapshotsRebuttalsFigure 3: Some snapshots – please note that the y-axis is different for each. Links to the large versions of each: Evidence, Volcano, Greenhouse, CO2, Past and Warming    

The overall winner is – to nobody’s surprise, I guess – the consensus article:

ConsensusFigure 4: Consensus views – up to almost 10,000 views for the intermediate version

As mentioned above, sometimes it’s possible to trace back where hits are coming from for specific spikes. Here is such an example for the rebuttal regarding the sun which had such a spike in early April:

SunFigure 5: Sun views with a rather distinct spike in early April for the basic version

With the help of our overall site-stats I was able to identify the IFL-science article Climate Change Is Real But Good Says Putin Because We’re All Doomed Anyway.  The link to the rebuttal is pretty well hidden with “good information” in this paragraph towards the end:

“Just to clarify, modern climate change is most definitely not being caused by “global cycles” or some “outer space cycles”. Here is some good information why.”

Bottom line: as bad as Trump’s announcement regarding Paris is, it sure got the topic of climate change in front of many people who may not have heard much about it otherwise.

Note: You may have noticed that the most viewed myths listed in this article are not the same ones as those shown in the thermometer in the left-hand sidebar. The reason for that is, that they are looking at different things. The rebuttal views count how often each rebuttal-version gets displayed each day while the underlying – and not neccessarily current – data for the thermometer is based on submitted mentions of a myth in the media.