Skeptical Science wins the Eureka!

A Queensland physicist’s war on global warming skeptics has seen him win the 2011 Eureka Prize for Advancement of Climate Change Knowledge.

John Cook is a Research Fellow in climate communications at the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute.

Cook’s war on global-warming deniers began in 2007 with his website, Skeptical Science.  His idea was simple: “to make peer-reviewed science the ultimate authority”.

He chose the name “Skeptical Science” because he believed the word had been misappropriated by the deniers.

“True skeptics seek the truth and the skeptics we know deny it.”

Here is how he saw the website work:

“The skeptic arguments would be matched with easily understood quick, fact-based rebuttals, backed up by the latest, peer-reviewed science – with a link so visitors could verify the credibility of the source.”

 Skeptical Science received international recognition in 2010 when Melburnian, Adam Kierce of Shine Technologies, converted the website into an App.

Its “Top Ten” rating by The Guardian resulted in over 72,000 downloads.

As a result, Skeptical Science’s popularity skyrocketed with monthly hits of over half a million and an international reach of twenty languages.

For Twitter fans, a new weapon has been added to Skeptical Science’s arsenal.

The ‘Twitter-bot’ is a collaboration with software developer, Nigel Leck.  Leck’s ingenious software acts like a reverse search engine patrolling ‘Twitter’ for common myths on climate change.  Posing as a live ‘Twitterer’, it fires off a volley of peer-reviewed scientific ‘tweets’ in response.

Cook’s arsenal continues to grow.  A book, a guide and a handbook have materialised in quick succession over the past year. The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism, written in simple language, was followed by the Debunking Handbook, designed for anyone dealing with myths and misinformation.  Co-written by Cook and cognitive scientist, Stephan Lewandowsky, it went viral within days of the launch with 150,000 downloads in a single day.  The appeal is wide. A Muslim forum speculated on the Handbook’s usefulness “when engaging people who believe lies about Islam.”

The book, Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand, with foreword by Professor Naomi Oreskes and co-authored with Haydn Washington, was published last year.

A growing list of science and academic experts – Michael Mann and Professor Naomi Oreskes among them – have endorsed Cook’s Skeptical Science as the “go to” web resource on climate.

Earlier this year, David Suzuki, joined them: “There are many credible sources of information… One place to start is at skepticalscience.com.” A growing list of science and academic experts – Michael Mann and Professor Naomi Oreskes among them – have endorsed Cook’s Skeptical Science as the “go to” web resource on climate.

Academic institutes around the world have taken up Cook’s resource:

“A few different college courses are now using our site in their curriculum – for example Portland State University (Debunking Handbook) and Suffolk County Community College (website).

“Suffolk Country Community College’s Professor Scott Mandia gave his students the project of reviewing the guide and many of their comments were incorporated into the final version.”

Shine Technologies has followed its app with a Skeptical Science Firefox Add-on that has two major functions.

It interfaces as you surf websites and blogs, checking arguments and responding instantly with both short rebuttals from Skeptical Science as well as the full URL.

Its secondary role is an interactive one and offers a way to join Cook’s war on global warming deniers.  As you browse the web, the Add-on allows you to submit climate links and peer-reviewed papers to Skeptical Science’s database.

Cook encourages us all to get involved:

“Join the crowd sourcing effort … and you’ll make this data collecting geek very happy.”

(this article first appeared in Independent Australia 1 April 2012)

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