As we close into the 250 millionth page view at WUWT (
likely to happen in a few hours done), I’ve been thinking both back to the early days and and wondering what today would be like if WUWT never existed.
Before the impending catastrophe of global warming was introduced to the world, I recall two things that got my attention. The first was the initial release of the Keeling curve. That pretty much silenced the impending Ice Age crowd, which I had mostly given up on anyway. After Keeling, I started pointing out that nuclear power plants didn’t release CO2. A decade or two later, I heard what was probably a short news note on the Hockey Stick, and figured that CO2 must actually be doing us in. I started souring on that when I realized later it also got rid of the Little Ice Age. How could that be? I had heard too much about the LIA to think it could be wiped away with a wave of a hockey wand.
Various tidbits made me think solar activity was a significant driver, and when I learned about the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and began to meet people like Joe D’Aleo I decided to bide my time for a bit longer and start getting active when the PDO next flipped negative and SC23 (Solar Cycle #23) reached its end. At another talk by Joe, he said both of those had essentially happened. That was February 2008. SC23 hung on for another year or two before it finally got an updated tombstone, but it was pretty much moribund during that period.
By then I had found Anthony Watt’s Surface Stations project and discovered that the surface record was worse than I could have ever imagined. I found RealClimate, but found WUWT made more sense. I found videos from Bob Carter about the scientific method, something I have deep respect for, and that led me to write my first real climate web page, http://wermenh.com/climate/science.html – Science, Method, Climatology, and Forgetting the Basics. It’s now somewhat dated, but not bad. I found that the science behind the Hockey Stick was worse than I could have imagined.
I settled in at WUWT becoming a daily reader. My main two regrets then were first, wishing I had started reading WUWT when it started late in 2006, and when I learned about John Daly, one of the first serious skeptics, I wished I had been able to see him in action before his death in 2004. The former seems a bit silly now, the latter I’m glad I’m helping preserve http://john-daly.com
The most momentous event in WUWT’s existence was the release of the Climategate Emails in 2009. Now we had proof that much of the manipulation we suspected was going on behind the scenes really was. I stayed up until 3 AM unable to pull myself away from the Harry README file. As a software engineer, I related very well to what that poor guy had to deal with. More science, worse than I could have imagined.
Climategate changed WUWT forever. Whereas before the posters generally had a lot of technical background, a flood of new readers came in (I expected for a short while), some with a technical background, but a lot more just plain folks goaded into looking into the global warming claims they now had reason to question. This new cohort is still here, having found that WUWT is the best source of information within the climate community. Very little escapes WUWT, in part because its reach encourages people to submit stories here than try to start their own blog. (A couple have been successful – especially https://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/ and https://chiefio.wordpress.com/)
All in all, WUWT has “won” a battle for readers it never tried to win. Anthony has managed to find an almost perfect level of moderation where things are kept under control, but people given enough slack to prove their character warrants banishment. He and the moderation team do an incredibly good job of handling an impossible task. Anthony credits his years as a TV meteorologist in helping understand audiences, that makes a lot of sense to me.
Anthony could have thrown in the towel at many points along the way, and shutdown or radically changed the blog to give him more time for his professional and personal lives. I know the impact on me and my “obsession,” I can imagine WUWT feels like a heavy burden at times for Anthony. After all, he once said way back in 2007:
I don’t want fame, fame is painful. A complete and thorough accounting of the surface temperature record is all I want.
Forecasting the future is difficult….
I’ve also been wondering what would the climate scene be if WUWT had never been created? Some of the “specialty” blogs would certainly be around and thriving. Other “generalist” blogs likely would have appeared, but unless they were run by someone who understood his audience I doubt they’d be as successful as WUWT.
I’d bet there would be blogs as tightly controlled as RealClimate and Skeptical Science. They would fade from lack of reader support. There would be blogs that are a total free for all to “do things right,” but they would collapse under battles between competing trolls, forcing people with a genuine curiosity out to look for someplace else or just give up.
Ten or twenty years or so from now people will try to analyze the history of the climate debates, I think WUWT will come out both as important and influential. Maybe we can find Anthony some relatively painless fame then.