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Fascinating Algorithm

You may have heard about the recent crackdown by internet providers on purveyors of Fake News, which began by the banning of Alex Jones by Facebook and Twitter.

First they came for the loony rightwing racist chemtrail conspiracy theorist

But I wasn’t a loony rightwing racist chemtrail conspiracy theorist

So what me worry?

Then it got worse, with search engines like Google installing new algorithms which apparently reduced traffic by 50% for middle-of-the-road far left (if you follow me) sites like Counterpunch.

Counterpunch may be far left, but among their regular contributors were Uri Avnery, ex-member of Irgun and the Knesset, and Paul Craig Roberts, who was an advisor to Ronald Reagan. These people are not Trotskyist clones. One of Counterpunch’s founders was Alexander Cockburn, one of those rare birds, a left wing climate sceptic, who lost out in a famous spat with George Monbiot because of having quoted something from someone who once sat on a chair warmed by an ex-spokesman for the KuKluxKlan, or something. Hence climate scepticism cannot exist in a leftwing climate, Q.E.D.

And sure enough, it doesn’t. Counterpunch now publishes the kind of lunatic climate hysteria which even the Guardian or New York Times wouldn’t touch. Why should you believe anything they say about international capital or incipient fascism in Brazil when they write bollocks about global warming?

When we started this site three years ago, we thought long and hard about a name, and decided to call it “Climate Scepticism” quite simply in order to gather hits from people interested in the subject of – climate scepticism. This worked well for a while. If you googled “climate scepticism” you found our site right away. Then a while back I noticed our readership tailing off a bit, while the standard of posts continued to be excellent. Furthermore, the lurkers who click the odd “recommend” to an article or a comment weren’t always the same, which suggested we were picking up new readers, which was encouraging. But Google wasn’t bringing them in.

For a long time, if you googled “climate scepticism” you found this site on the first page of your search, right after Wiki. I’ve just looked, and we’re now on page 4, number 36, right after the Grantham Institute’s webpage on climate scepticism, and just behind an article in the Zambian Mail and Guardian (“Africa’s Best Read”) titled “The persistence of climate scepticism in the media.”

Now I’m quite happy to believe that the Zambian Mail and Guardian has a greater readership than our site, and that they deserve it. But if the criterion for ordering entries is readership of articles titled “climate scepticism,” how do you explain page one of a search for “climate scepticism” on Google?

The first entry is: How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous … by David Runciman, and it’s one of the Guardian’s Long Reads.

Well that makes sense. It’s got ‘climate scepticism’ in the title. Though I bet it doesn’t get many hits, since the Guardian’s Long Reads are targetted to traditional Graun readers who can scroll down for more than 30 seconds and read without moving their lips – an endangered species..

David is the great nephew of Sir Steven Runciman, author of “a History of the Crusades” the definitive account of the first (unsuccessful) attempt to persuade those desert chappies to keep it in the ground…

(Where was I?)

The second entry is: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-change-scepticism

which is of course the world’s most activist site devoted to suppressing climate scepticism. They have 1,774 articles on the subject. It’s as if you googled “Judaism” and were led to an anti-semitic site with 1,774 articles thereon. They would certainly be relevant. But the most relevant?

The third entry is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_denial

Climate change denial, or global warming denial, is part of the global warming controversy. It involves denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific opinion on climate change, including the extent to which it is caused by humans, its impacts on nature and human society, or the potential of adaptation to global warming by human actions.[Some deniers endorse the term, while others prefer the term climate change skepticism. Several scientists have noted that “skepticism” is an inaccurate description for those who deny anthropogenic global warming…

It’s normal that Wikipaedia should figure high in Google’s search results. But why should a search for “climate scepticism” lead me to the Wiki article on “Climate change denial,” unless there’s something in their algorithm which equates scepticism with denial?

Results four and five are:

Climate Scepticism in Parliament | Campaign against Climate Change

Climate change scepticism is when people are not yet convinced by the current evidence that emissions of man-made CO2 notably enhance the natural …

and:

Global Warming and Climate Change skepticism examined

Examines the science and arguments of global warming skepticism. Common objections like ‘global warming is caused by the sun’, ‘temperature has changed…


and so on. Of the 35 sites on “climate scepticism” you’ll hit on Google before you find the one entitled “climate scepticism” 33 are devoted to countering climate scepticism.

Try to imagine a moment if you googled “Mozart” and found thirty three sites denigrating Mozart before you found one that appreciated his music. I’m willing to believe that 97% of the population don’t like Mozart, and even that the remaining 3% are in the pay of the musico-industrial complex, but – hey Google, couldn’t you cut us some slack and let us live a little? It’s only an opinion, after all.

[In the course of writing this, I googled “banned by Facebook.” The first site offered was Wikipaedia’s entry for “Censorship of Facebook” (Several countries have interfered with or banned access to the social networking website Facebook…”)

I want to know who Facebook has banned, and Google tell me who has banned Facebook. Interesting, but not what I asked.

Oh for Latin with its inflections, its distinction between the ablative and the accusative… St Thomas Aquinas wouldn’t have stood for it, nor would Francis Bacon. Why should we?]

24 thoughts on “Fascinating Algorithm

  1. I noticed the same about a year ago. I have a blog on blogger which used to get much more readership, but it dropped off and now i barely use it. In the past, when i wanted to refer to one of my entries i would simply search the title and add “Social Critic”. The search akways put first the mention which landed me to the Google Plus page where I had shared the link. Nowadays I dont appear in the first few pages (it depends on the post subject).

    Let ne show an example: i have a post called “I interview the head of the Illuminati”. You search for it using that string plus Social Critic and it shows up on the first page. I also have one called “Burn baby Burn” which deals with CO2 concentrations. Search for that and my post doesn’t appear even though it’s got several thousand historical hits.

    I fibd the same for other searches, and the same applies to YouTube.

    Like

  2. “traditional Graun readers [who] can scroll down for more than 30 seconds and read without moving their lips – an endangered species”.
    Hey, that’s me. Do you think I could get a grant?

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  3. Like yr witty title, GC, reminds me of, Alan Chalmers book Title ‘What is This Thing Called
    Science?’) Also like yr Mozart analogy, tho’ of course he was a dead white, well you know…
    Died quite young, vale M, things were tough in those days, had ter get it together quick
    smart, no time fer resentment politicking.

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  4. Interesting points – censorship can exist in all sorts of egregious ways.

    Out of curiosity, do you know anything about the results from other search agents, and whether they are similarly corrupted, e.g. Duckduckgo?

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  5. One further observation. When I use google to search for sites I visit frequently, it adds a handful of icons to the search page, and I can save time by clicking on the icons rather than typing in the name of the site for which I search.

    I’ve noticed that although this site is one I frequently visit, google will never give it an icon on my search page – but other sites, which I visit often (but less often than this one) are given such an icon by google. Can you sue google for discrimination or a hate crime?

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  6. You’ll be glad to know that this site is the #1 hit on Bing for climate skepticism. (I stopped using the general Google search years ago.)

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  7. To do a great evil requires a lot of sanctimony and a great deal of power.
    The internet oligarchs have an abundance of both.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. CliScep is Google’s 15th hit here, on page two, right after a hit for the very wonderful Operation Noah*. It’s #1 at Bing, Yahoo and Duckduckgo.

    ===
    *Operation Noah:

    http://operationnoah.org/news-events/salote-video/

    Note that the increase in cyclones mentioned by the Rt. Revd. Jhonson after the end of the cartoon (and also here) is, in a very real sense, a fiction. See:

    https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/joc.3932

    (Does pointing that out make me a climate denier?)

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  9. Say, Hunter, ‘message’* and ‘means.’ I buy that 😦

    * Message; not necessarily yr ‘aims’ per Naychur ‘s problem situations fer cits
    but mebbe ‘noble cause corruption.’ or ‘self interest.’

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  10. It is even worse for me.

    Editing note I used your spelling of skepticism with S C not S K but the editor insisted on changing it to the American version.

    When I google search “Climate skepticism” this site did not come up on 16 pages

    When I google search “climate skepticism blog” this site did not come up until the fifth entry on the third page.

    Is Google search location specific?

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  11. Geoff,

    Your article draws attention to a very worrying aspect of modern climate science discourse – climate change scepticism is now defined purely in terms of its unacceptability. Mind you, part of the reason for ‘denial’ coming out top on the Google Trends stakes is that the scepticism camp is divided. See:

    https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=Climate%20change%20skepticism,Climate%20change%20scepticism,Climate%20change%20denial

    If only the sceptics could agree on a spelling, the world could be theirs!

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  12. I think this is mostly a Google thing. As Robert Pollock and Vinny have mentioned, this site comes up top of the list on Bing, and ditto for Yahoo! and the searches which I think must use Bing and/or Yahoo! results, such as DuckDuckGo, Swisscows, etc.

    The startpage search engine (used to be Ixquick) uses Google results, on the other hand, so CliScep is buried on page 2.

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  13. Another way to see this is as a failure if Google and the others in the big tech oligopoly to maximize their ability to serve the public.
    Alienating significant segments of their customer base will not end well for the oligarchs.
    Facebook, at least in the US, is already seeing use drop. FB’s response to seek more censorship, is only annoying people. It will hurt revenue soon if not already.
    Google, whose execs openly despise the President and those who support him, is working with the Chinese tyranny to develop the most powerful censorship and communication control system ever devised.
    So much for “don’t be evil” or whatever half assed sophistry they claim to believe.
    Progress is dynamic, and the silly delusional belief of the faux progressives that “science is liberal” or something equally ignorant is to laugh at.

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  14. Tested. I didn’t believe google is any more political than bing, but there you go. I’ll give bing a chance. duckduck just sucksucks.

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  15. @HUNTER

    Interesting you use the word “oligarchs” with regards to big tech.
    seems an obvious thing to say, but the western media are/seem blind to this.
    “oligarchs” to most people (if they listen to BBC,media etc) are from Russia & other suspect countries.

    “oligarchs” should be the “in” word in the west to highlight people/organisations that seem to wield just about as much influence/power as Governments.

    @Geoff – for the past 6 mts I had problems even opening the site homepage, seems ok now!!

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  16. dfhunter,
    Thanks. What has happened in the public square of the internet is the definition of “Oligarchy”.
    The reason we are not hearing about this much more loudly is that the current oligarchs own, run, or heavily influence the public square media.
    Does anyone seriously think the Bezo Post is going to address the worker abuse and economic destruction caused by Amazon?
    And that us only the top of the iceberg.
    It is sort if like an autoimmune disease: the traditional immune system has been heavily compromised by the infection.

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  17. Hi Hunter
    I was alerted/interested by a few of your comments which mention “Oligarchy”.
    as it happens one of my latest books from the local library is “the new few – a very british oligarchy” by Ferdinand mount.”

    have not read it all yet (the guy seems credible so far, but nothing already known),

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  18. Duckduckgo is my go-to engine for unbiased searches. The bias doesn’t even have to be political, it can simply be sensationalist. I recently looked for a list of volcanic eruptions from 1941-1950, and Google returned nothing but lists of “The Top 10 Deadly Eruptions…” and such like. I never did find a site with Google that would give me the desired information, regardless of how I queried. DDG found me one on the first try. And it had none of the extraneous “Deadliest..” BS that I couldn’t exclude from Google results, no matter how hard I tried.

    It has no politically motivated science bias, either. Compare searches on it and Google for “radiation hormesis.” It’s eye-opening.

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  19. Michael Kelly’s comment is very welcome and suggests alternative explanations for Google giving less prominence to sceptics. I would suggest that Google returns hits for “10 deadliest volcanic eruptions” when you search for “volcanic eruptions from 1941-1950” is that it anticipates the search results. This is because the algorithm compares the results of previous similar searches and the sites clicked on. That is likely why Wikipedia entries rate so highly.
    This might also be that Google will promote particular websites for a fee – a way of Google making money. It may not be political bias on the part of Google but someone paying Google to promote their own ideas. Sometimes the promotions as listed as adverts, but nor always. It is not just Google who does this. I tried searching “climate scepticism” at Duckduckgo. This is the result.

    The promoted advert from amazon is denoted as an “ad”. A few large value packs of scepticism might make good Christmas presents, in the same way as Anthony Watts sending out Josh cartoon calendars to selected persons in the past. However, I was disappointed to find that rather than being taken to some “scepticism” ointment to rub on, the Amazon link is to lists of books on philosophy.

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  20. Thanks for all the comments and search tips. I note Mark Hodgson’s remark about the cliscep icon not appearing on Google, whereas in the screen capture from Duckduckgo posted by Manicbeancounter our icon is there, as well as that for the Guardian.

    It’s not really censorship, is it? More like putting our blog on the top shelf, out of sight of prudes and minors. Which never did Playboy any harm.

    Like

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