Using Twitter Volume as Scientific Measure of “Climate Change” Is a Very, Very, Bad Idea

By Anthony Watts

The headline of a recent story on CNBC claimed, “Scientists Are Using Twitter to Measure the Impact of Climate Change.”

I did a double-take and checked the calendar to make sure this was not April Fools’ Day, thinking this had to be some sort of a joke.

Sadly, it is not.

Image: nuisance street flooding from NOAA Ocean service.

Incredibly, scientists are basing claims of a climate crisis on the number of people tweeting about climate events—a very bad sign for science, indeed.

The CNBC story featured a newly published study titled, “Using Remarkability to Define Coastal Flooding Thresholds.” (“Remarkability” is a fancy, sciencey-sounding name for Twitter volume.) A pair of scientists from the University of California at Davis and the Max Plank Institute for Human Development examined Twitter messages to measure how often people complained about flooding nuisances—typically caused by backed-up stormwater drains—along coastal counties, including Boston, Miami, and New York.

“Coastal floods and inundation are projected to produce some of the primary social impacts of climate change, imposing significant costs on communities around the world,” the study claims.

“Flooding due to high tides, storm surges, or a combination of the two is increasingly common in many coastal areas and is projected to become more frequent and severe as sea-levels rise globally.”

However, the study ignored hard, objective data like rainfall rates, choosing instead to build a scientific case for worsening coastal flooding by noting that people are tweeting about it more often. The researchers defined a “remarkable threshold” for coastal flooding when the number of Twitter posts in a particular county complaining about flooding rose by 25 percent. Then, they compared the Twitter data with official flood records.

The kinds of Tweets that would qualify as scientific evidence of increasing, climate-driven flooding would include, “Hey neighbors! The street is flooded again because the city didn’t clear the storm drain of junk and leaves. Don’t park out front.”

The study reveals trends of social media commentary, but certainly not objective, factual data about climate. It also reflects trends of social media volume in general, as well as people reflecting the inundation of climate propaganda coming from media sources. None of these are scientific evidence of climate change or climate change impacts.  

Here is another interesting tidbit: For some strange reason, the researchers limited the scope of their study to a relatively short period, ranging from March 2014 to November 2016. I’m always suspicious of any scientific study that doesn’t use the entire available dataset. Why not from 2014 to 2018? In many cases, analysts limit their choice of data because when they analyze data for a study and the full dataset does not provide the answer they were hoping to find, they report misleading results from a partial dataset instead.

To their credit, the researchers noted that Twitter data might be misleading. They mentioned earlier research demonstrated that the more people experience things, the less remarkable they become. In other words, when storms and floods occur less often, they are more likely to be exciting and deserving of a Twitter post when they finally do occur.

Here is the biggest flaw in the study: Nowhere in the study did the authors look at the increase of Twitter users or tweets during the same period, and that’s a shocking oversight on their part. According to data for the United States compiled by Statista, Twitter’s audience grew massively from the first quarter of 2013 to the fourth quarter of 2014, from 48 million to 63 million monthly active users. This 31.25 percent increase in the number of Twitter users overlapped the period studied in the previously mentioned (and dubious) flooding study.

Gosh, do you think there might have been an increase in tweets about street flooding because more people were using Twitter during the months at the end of the study period than were using Twitter at the beginning of the study period?

I weep for science, and I especially weep for climate science.


Anthony Watts (AWatts@heartland.org) is senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. He is a former broadcast meteorologist and operates the world’s most-viewed climate website, WattsUpWithThat.com.

Advertisements

72 thoughts on “Using Twitter Volume as Scientific Measure of “Climate Change” Is a Very, Very, Bad Idea

    • Zoe
      There is a problem with your calculations. With approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface covered by water, which is primarily a specular reflector, instead of a diffuse reflector, the Bond Albedo is a lower bound on the total reflectivity of Earth. That is because for high angles of incidence (not near solar noon) most of the incoming light is reflected away from any overhead satellites that could measure the back reflectance. There is a diffuse reflectance component to water that results from suspended sediment and plankton, but it varies inversely with the angle of incidence because, as the surface reflectance increases, there is less light refracted into the water where it can be reflected back out.

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/09/12/why-albedo-is-the-wrong-measure-of-reflectivity-for-modeling-climate/

      • Yes – The water and its global distribution are the prime determinates of global climate, combined with the insolation as the energy source. The atmosphere plays a significant role in redistributing the energy collected in the tropical oceans to higher latitudes. Land is where most people live and contributes to local weather.

        Geothermal – nothing to do with global climate. If there was 233W/sq.m of geothermal energy heating the oceans from bottom up the thermal imbalance would drive massive vertical convective currents.

  1. About the only thing that Twitter is Scientifically useful to discern is the speed with which Twits can spread misinformation and incite fear within the Twitverse

    • There is a statement attributed to Mark Twain which is applicable to Twitter and Facebook, “A lie can go around the world before the truth even gets it’s boots on.”

    • “In other words, when storms and floods occur less often, they are more likely to be exciting and deserving of a Twitter post when they finally do occur.”

      It is also the advent of Twitter gave them a new way to react to flooding. Once they have tried it, it gets to be passe.

    • This is an excellent idea to crate a hockey stick scientifically. You see immediately that the climate change started in 2006 – no Twitter before then. Isn’t it amazing what scientista can do?

    • Considering that “people” use TWITter to complain if their coffee isn’t exactly the right temperature, I’ll just assume people will complain about anything, in the hopes of getting some likes.

  2. I agree that basing a study on Tweets is stupid, but there are MANY credible skeptics on Twitter bravely battling trolls on a daily basis.

    • So true Latitude. Since the early years of the 21st century, shortly after ALGORE failed to ascend to the Presidency and began appearing on Morning Shows to declare that “The debate is over” and “The science is settled,” promoting his propaganda documentary, I realized that this was a Socio/Political movement.

      Then upon hearing “97% census” I realized how they intended to steal our liberty and take control of our lives. This report simple confirms my understanding that the alarmists intend to win the day via the ballot box. Who needs science when they can brainwash a voting majority to turn over all power to central planning. Why else do you suppose the Orwellian “O’brien’s” wish to lower the voting age to 16. Get the Greta”s voting and it will put them over the top.

      By the time they take control it will necessitate a revolution to win back our independence.

  3. “the researchers noted that Twitter data might be misleading”

    duuuhhhh

    This sort of stuff would have been the subject of a Monty Python sketch in the 70’s.

    The capacity of supposedly intelligent people to behave like sheep or other herd living herbivores always astounds me. Is it the herbivore thing?

    • Perhaps but I would guess that the anti-pagan sponsored burning free thinkers at the stake over the centuries, etc. has produced a strain of lambs that prefers to do and think as they are told. The game was lost by what, the late 1800’s or at most early 1900’s. Yer just a spectator at the end game. It’s like unusually bad TV with extra commercials…and since that was not stupid enough they invented the twits.

    • Remember the first people in Germany to fall for the racist propaganda that Hitler espoused (before Hitler even spent time in WW1) were the intelligentsia. And it is a demonstratable fact that the more advanced degrees a person has the less likely they are to come up with original concepts.

      • You are right of course. Such people tend to rest on the laurels of all the letters they can add after their name and ‘titles’ people refer to them by and voila, you actually have an ‘educated aristocracy’ that assigns terminology to a world interpreted in accordance with an ideology as distinct from an ‘intelligentsia’ that thinks about and makes sense of the real world.

        What they are actually ‘experts’ in is ideological (ideo-illogical?) diatribes.

    • “Is it the herbivore thing?” As a confirmed carnivore, I would have to say ‘Yes’, as I stalk my next meal, but with one eye over my shoulder to watch out that I am not someone else’s prey.

  4. Anthony, how about counting the tweets about record cold in the midwest, including around Chicago and in Ohio last winter. That would be good evidence that climate change was going the other way!

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6641939/Heavy-snow-hitting-parts-Midwest-dangerous-cold-coming.html

    Especially if Trump supporters tweeted back about the record cold. “Fake Fact Checkers” offered up the bromide that it was warm somewhere else! Are they saying that 100 years from now Chicago will still be getting record breaking cold in global warming? Surely fact checkers would wonder how this air could have got so cold with Arctic Amplification in action.

  5. I hope I see the day when dedicated scientists from disciplines unaligned with “climate science” (whatever that qualifies as) declare en mass that they are disassociating themselves from the sideshow that “climatology” currently represents.

  6. It’s much worse now. I mean, it’s obvious. I couldn’t find any tweets from 1850, 1930, or 1980 about flooding or climate change at all!

    It’s worse than we thought.

  7. I was on Twitter for the first half of 2016 before finally shutting down my account in June 2016.
    I used my real name, and had my real bio information, education, age, location stuff. I used it mainly to see when new post hit WUWT and a few other people I followed.

    I after I got to about 250 followers I could see that about half my “followers” appeared to be bot accounts (empty shell profiles) and were simply retweeting my tweets as a conservative commenter.

    And then with the fact that the even real human tweets were mostly “unverified” (no blue check) and thus they were anonymous (fake screen names) and they could be anyone saying whatever inflamatory junk whatever they wanted to to start a “flame war.”

    So I quit Twitter. It’s useless forum with so many unverified users.

    So Twitter is a useless venue unless you get yourself verified and only interact with other verified accounts in my opinion. So it will continue to be a garbage dump unless Twitter forces every user to become a verified identity.

    Trump finds it effective, as he is of course “verified”, to be able to speak directly to millions of Twitter followers without the news media filtering his words. Which has its drawbacks for any public person, when they say something stupid (“covfefe” anyone?). Even deleting the tweet doesn’t work, because there are automated servers out there that take screen shots of all tweets of all the verified Twitter accounts, so that record persists even when a verified user tries to retract a dumb tweet by deleting it.

    IMPO then any so-called “researcher” who thinks using Twitter statistics is in some way a valid measure of controversial subjects, well I’ve got a very nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell them, cheap.

    • I’ve been on Twitter for about 10 years. I don’t tweet and I don’t accept follower requests. I subscribe to a few news, sports, entertainment and information sources, and if any of them become tedious I unfollow them. I have a small twitter window on the far edge of my secondary monitor, making for a reasonably useful news ticker.

      I’m not sure I would be an effective source for these researchers. 😉

    • Covfefe was genius! It got a lot of new people paying attention to his twitter. It also got the MSM ranting about what was obviously a mistake. Regular people can identify with that, and we all hate the spelling Na$is, so us regular people all sympathised with Trump.

  8. ”scientists are basing claims of a climate crisis on the number of people tweeting about climate events”

    So they’re not scientists then. They are just more morons..

  9. “To their credit, the researchers noted that Twitter data might be misleading. ”

    yet they published anyway. Kinda like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater but later saying ‘Just kidding”. Somehow that makes the lie ok.

  10. This one’s going into my skeptic’s tool bag under “propaganda”.

    Let’s study the range of electric vehicles by examining the tweets of Tesla drivers.

  11. I do not weep for Climate Science.
    As practised it is on par with Political Science,Social science and Environment Canada’s Science..all of which embrace the word and avoid the method.
    Counting the twits is fair and reasonable when your game is pure politics and misdirection.
    But wait,I thought the same brainiacs told us most sceptics are really botts?
    So they would have to discount any tweets critical of their religion..Og right.
    Nevermind.

  12. When the actual data doesn’t support the point you are paid to push, find something, anything that will.

    I’m old enough to remember when scientists actually did science.

  13. Twitter can be useful for a number of things but this isn’t one of them. I know because my business analyses social media. Yes, use it to understand how happy or otherwise people might be about the supermarket they use but as a tool for scientific research into climate change forget it. I’m still struggling to believe this is anything other than a hoax.

  14. “Incredibly, scientists are basing claims of a climate crisis on the number of people tweeting about climate events—a very bad sign for science, indeed”

    But a good measure of the effectiveness of climate activism. And therefore more evidence that climate science is a form of activism and if it is a science then it is a science that has become corrupted by activism. Three related links.

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2019/02/03/hidden-hand/

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2019/10/19/emotion/

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/01/26/ocean-acidification-the-evil-twin-of-climate-change/

  15. There’s an old saying (in regards to lawyers) that is apt here. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side pound the law. when neither is on your side pound the table. This is the alarmists pounding the table. The facts don’t support their narrative, the laws of nature aren’t supporting their narrative, so they have to find something else to bang on about to support the narrative. twits on twitter will do for their purposes.

  16. Anthony Watt states that “Here is the biggest flaw in the study: Nowhere in the study did the authors look at the increase of Twitter users or tweets during the same period, and that’s a shocking oversight on their part. ”

    In contrast the article states:
    The sample contains Tweets from over five million unique users. The number of Twitter users steadily increases over time, with a sharp drop in late 2014 likely associated with a change in Twitter’s policy on geolocating Tweets (Supplementary Fig. 3). The number of Twitter users is included as a control variable in all regressions.

    So it would appear that the “biggest flaw in the study” does not actually exist.

    As for how useful it is, it is probably as useful as Google’s flue trend idea. It started out promising (also with
    an article in Nature) but currently is fairly useless.
    https://www.wired.com/2015/10/can-learn-epic-failure-google-flu-trends/

  17. Anthony, this reads as though you are suffering from remnants of a discarded theology, to wit that there should be some meaning to the research.

    • Well it was published in nature communications, so it judged it was science 🙂

      Are they scientists, well in Climate Science you can just claim to be a scientist. We have precedence in Mosher and Cook the base criteria seems to be you have published some junk that gives the right message. So these guys have published some junk and it sells the right message so they are climate scientists.

      It matters to the Climate Science community because it sells the right advertising message and the MSM are stupid enough to publish this junk so it is a positive reinforcing.

  18. Incredibly, scientists are basing claims of a climate crisis on the number of people tweeting about climate events—a very bad sign for science, indeed.

    Classic feedback loop.

    Mark Steyn said about social media (from memory, paraphrasing Churchill):

    Never before in human history have the lives of some many people, so little lived, been so extensively chronicled.

    Or, to paraphrase Dr. King:

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the number of their Twitter followers.

    Indeed.

      • Yes, Martin Luther King wanted everyone to get along with each other, and judge each other only on the content of a person’s character.

        Today’s modern Radical Democrats do not want everyone to get along, they want to divide groups of people in the hopes that will allow the Democrats to gain political power. There is no “Martin Luther King thought process” going on among these people. Martin Luther King was *not* full of hate. The Radical Democrats *are* full of hate. It’s what energizes them.

  19. However, the study ignored hard, objective data like rainfall rates, choosing instead to build a scientific case for worsening coastal flooding by noting that people are tweeting about it more often.

    Postmodern science.

    We’ll be a laughing stock in the future. The dark ages of science.

  20. Flood tweets and tide height

    Reminds me of the old one about increases in radio licences correlating with increases in cases of insanity.

  21. Twitter is the greatest testament to the human intellect in cultural history. It is an extraordinary marketplace of ideas, where fine minds come together to exchange carefully considered opinions and to uplift the hearts of people everywhere. Twitter is humanity at its best, a wonderful carnival of brilliance, brains and wit.

    [/sarc off]

  22. This general approach is great -in some cases, we can learn a lot more than we can, otherwise.

    I was at some research training many years ago – now approaching 20 years. This was a two-week, competitive deal, with expert to trainee ratio of about 1:3. A very nice deal. All of us trainees got to know each other, and our topics. One trainee said she was with a health department for a major city, and they were using 9-11 calls to quickly identify quick-onset health problems such as flu outbreak. SARS had set them on this path.

    This was before the hype of “Big Data.” I think this was the advent of Big Data. Big Data has a few definitions. One is our ability to take big data sets that exist for one purpose, such as twitter, and apply them to some other worthwhile purpose, such as estimating where and how much flooding is going on, at the moment, in some locale. This view of Big Data is the view that these massive data sets exist, and we now have computational capacity to discern patterns and relationships, so let’s forge ahead and see where it works.

    You could look at a local spike in food delivery to map power outage – and so on. There are grand ideas that we may be able to use a variety of data sources to get at predictors of cancer. Our longitudinal cohort studies have weaknesses / limits, and Big Data studies can be complementary.

    I helped a team examine such out-of-the-box ideas for cancer prediction. A predictor of cancer incidence was: growing up with a grandparent as head of your household. a single item out of many population-based questionnaires on various topics, wedded regionally to cancer incidences. Cancer incidences were greater where general-population surveys had greater portions of people saying they were raised by grandparents versus parents. What does this mean? We don’t know. Maybe these are lower SES people? Were our methods OK for avoiding chance findings? Did we winnow down variables the right way? SEM? Discriminant function analysis? Backwards-stepping? Frontwards? Or other methods, altogether? This effort was really provoking thought versus genuinely being intended to cure cancer incidence. Compelling, and earnest. A far reach. Yes. Confirmatory? No.

    Of course, all of the well-known principles of measurement apply. We want measures that are specific and sensitive. that have convergent and discriminant validity. Candidate measures should be tested by replication to deal with capitalization on chance, regression to the mean, and biases such as experimenter effects.

    With some Big Data applications, generalizability or robustness concepts do not apply; we will only see the advent of Coronavirus, or Ebola in the United States, once in our lives. After that, the context will change, and increases in tweets about Coronavirus will not have the same meaning.

    The Climate Fear Mongers have no shame about co-opting recognized research methods, and even the mantel of “science” to advance their politics. We should only expect more of this misguided, politically-motivated “science.”

  23. If a creek flooded in a remote forest and no one tweeted about it, did it still flood? Uh, yes. But it wouldn’t show up in a study on Twitter.

    Of course, on the average dry day with no storms in sight, nobody will be tweeting about the weather, but they might tweet about what they or their friends did that day. So the Twitter researchers will conclude that there’s never any dry weather in this country.

    Trying to calculate flood frequency from tweets about floods is similar to calculating trends in hurricane frequency since before the 1970’s. Back before the age of weather satellites, people only knew about a hurricane if it hit land in a populated area, or if a large ship crossed its path without sinking. Now, with weather satellites keeping an eye on all the oceans, we give names to all storms with winds stronger than 35 mph, regardless of whether they ever hit land, or fizzle out in the middle of the ocean. This leads to more reported storms, but not an increase in frequency over time, since we didn’t know about many storms before the advent of weather satellites.

  24. This is how we get our data. We don’t have to go far – take the 97% claim. Cook pulled this one out of thin air. He simply looked at press articles and how many times Climate Change was mentioned and discarded those that did not as not relevant. Automatically blowing the share that suggests that human-made Climate Change is real out of proportion. After redoing the numbers seriously, the real number was low single digits. Food for thought?

Comments are closed.