Watt about the Tol Poll?

Watts Up With That (WUWT) is promoting (The Tol Poll – rating climate denizens) an online poll put together by Richard Tol that asks volunteers to rate a group of people on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is very nasty and 5 is very friendly. Now, I for one would be very pleased if people engaged in discussions about climate change/global warming were friendlier (or if the discussions were more pleasant) but I don’t think this poll is doing anything to achieve that goal.

Maybe Richard’s just having a bit of a laugh and I certainly enjoy a bit of giggle now and again. If you can’t have a bit of a laugh every so often, then you’re taking life too seriously. But Richard apparently intends to release the data. Hmmm, this doesn’t seem very funny anymore. Is this an attempt at a serious poll? Does he think it would be funnier to actually collect and release the data than to simply have a fake online poll to make some kind of point? Bear in mind that Richard Tol is a Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex and is also a co-ordinating lead author for the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (AR5), and has been involved in previous IPCC Assessment Reports. I was once advised by someone that I should not dismiss Richard Tol, as he is a serious academic. This isn’t really what I would expect from a serious academic but, I guess, there aren’t any rules so maybe one could argue that anything goes.

I’ll make a slightly more serious point though. Richard Tol has been a vocal critic of John Cook’s consensus paper, arguing that tests of the data highlight issues that indicate that the study is flawed. However, as I try to point out in this post it’s not clear that such tests are appropriate to the Cook et al. study. I also suggest that one could design a study that passed all the test but that would produce results that were meaningless.

I think that this may well be what Richard is illustrating with this new poll. I have no reason to suspect that the data will fail any of Richard’s statistical tests, but what will the results actually mean? Most of those taking the poll won’t actually know the people they’re rating so, at best, they’re expressing an opinion based on what they’ve read online. Given that the poll appears to be anonymous, you also have no idea what biases exist in those who’ve taken the poll (so really, Richard won’t be releasing all data).

So, apologies, if I’m not seeing what is meant to be a very subtle and clever joke. Doesn’t seem very funny to me, but then I’m happy to be convinced that it is. But, on the other hand, kudos to Richard Tol for illustrating that one can set up a survey that is likely to pass most (if not all) statistical test but that produces results that are essentially meaningless.

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23 Responses to Watt about the Tol Poll?

  1. Latimer Alder says:

    I think you are taking this all far too seriously and reading more into the results than was meant.

    But at least you got the real point in your last line

    ‘kudos to Richard Tol for illustrating that one can set up a survey that is likely to pass most (if not all) statistical test but that produces results that are essentially meaningless’.

    There have been a plethora of such stuides recently..all soon demolished in the blogosphere. Tol just chose a fun way to make the point.

  2. uknowispeaksense says:

    I’m just disappointed I didn’t rate a mention and attract lots of “very nasty” from the flying monkeys at Watts. Oh well, I shall remain a legend in my own lunchtime. 😉

  3. I thought this post was sufficiently light-hearted to indicate that I wasn’t taking this all that seriously. Satire isn’t my strong point though, I will acknowledge.

  4. I was surprised that Richard Tol didn’t include himself in the list 🙂

  5. Latimer Alder says:

    OK. You need to work on the satire. To me appeared like a maiden aunt disapproving of a bit of ice-cream before homework. Or of seeing the vicar watching football.

    Just because one is a serious academic doesn’t mean the sense of fun is left at the door:

    ‘On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics.’

    And I’ve never found any evidence at all that those concerned about CAGW have any sense of humour. Rather a sanctimonious crowd. Too busy Saving the Planet and Burning Heretics to giggle I guess. See Puritans banning Christmas. The tendency goes back a long way

  6. Latimer, I appreciate your comments and we’ve always had reasonably pleasant exchanges. However, I do think you should stop telling me how to behave or what to do. I know that maybe you’re trying to be nice and give advice to someone who you think is a bit of a greenhorn, but it is a little ironic that you tell me to work on my satire in the same comment as claiming CAGW proponents are sanctimonious :-).

  7. Actually, I’m probably wrong. It seems that determining the bias of those taking the poll is fairly straightforward.

  8. Latimer Alder says:

    ‘You need to work on xyz…..’ is an expression in common use. It is not intended to be taken too seriously. It was prompted by – and a reflection of – your remark ‘satire is not my strong point’. No more than that.

    If you get too hung up about the exact phraseology on twitter and blogs etc you’ll end up as a bag of nerves. Each expresses themselves in different ways. And by its very nature the blogosphere is not edited to a consistent house style. More a noisy pub than the hallowed halls of the Bodleian.

  9. You misunderstand. I don’t mind you doing it and it doesn’t annoy me. I was partly commenting on the irony of you claiming that CAGW proponents are sanctimonious while making, what appeared to be, a rather sanctimonious comment of your own. I had bit of giggle to be honest. I’m not averse to making ironic comments of my own, to be fair.

  10. BBD says:

    Anthony is now claiming that the “poll has been hacked by some zealot”…

    Although Richard Tol says there *wasn’t* a hack, just bot-generated response sufficient to max out the poll’s capacity.

    Either way, nothing going on at present.

  11. Rattus Norvegicus says:


  12. dana1981 says:

    Can’t really say I see the point or why it’s funny. It’s pretty clear that the bot registering 10,000 votes was indeed a WattsBot. The results at the moment are a bit amusing.

    Dana Nuccitelli: 80% ‘very nasty’.
    Marc Morano: 75% ‘very friendly’.

    Need I say more?

    What’s interesting is that I also got over 2000 ‘very friendly votes’ and almost nothing in between. Subtract the bot and I’ve actually got about 2000 very friendly vs. 1200 very nasty. With the poll advertised on WUWT, that’s not the result I would have expected. Subtract the bot votes and Watts is almost the opposite.

    Anyway, I fail to see the point of a popularity contest poll. If Tol is trying to make some sort of comparison to our consensus paper, he may have gone off the deep end.

  13. BBD says:

    If Tol is trying to make some sort of comparison to our consensus paper, he may have gone off the deep end.

    Having watched this play out, I am still left wondering what the hell is going on in RT’s head. Echoes of Curry. Just… WTF?

  14. I thought the sarcasm here was both artful and subtle. Wotts will probably rank very high on the niceness scale. He knows how to politely inform a climate change denier.

  15. Do not ask for whom the Tol polls
    He polls not for thee

  16. uknowispeaksense says:

    You’ve completely lost the plot Richard. You’re already a bit of a joke and now you’ve cemented your place amongst those to whom we can go to as a source of amusement, right alongside Monckton.

  17. bratisla says:

    A google form, “hackable ” ? What a surprise.
    But this poll is not rickrollable, so /b/ will not “enhance” the results. Which is a shame.

  18. Fragmeister says:

    Can I suggest a few more polls?
    Most stupid idea on WUWT – my vote goes to the insects series of posts.
    Academic most isolated from mainstream on climate change – spoilt for choice
    Non-scientist least likely to overturn 200 years of chemistry and physics – again spoilt for choice
    Most egregious act of cherry picking data
    Think tank least likely to be correct on climate change

    Not sure what a beauty contest is meant to achieve but I am sure Professor Tol has his reasons, for better or worse.

  19. I could set up one here, but given that I’m trying to be civil and that it would also be a little hypocritical to do so, I probably shouldn’t 🙂

  20. John says:

    Not a clue what he’s thinking. I thought it was something to do with his consensus paper but I don’t see how this helps him. It just looks like a poor conceived and really badly executed poll. It not exactly a demonstration of how to do a survey.

    Even without the bots it was pretty poor. You could see the results before voting and Richard was even discussing the ‘correlations’ from it before inviting people to take part, just to make sure there was no chance of unbiased answers. Maybe it’s a demonstration of how not to do a survey?

    “What’s interesting is that I also got over 2000 ‘very friendly votes’ and almost nothing in between” I think there are several bot attacks not just the 10,000. Also seems that votes for different people got switched around. If you look at the results now you’ll see that ‘your’ votes are now being given to Steve McIntyre. I would assume the numbers are meaningless. Over 10,000 now think Dana is ‘very friendly’.

  21. Blast, someone saw through my attempt at a subtle ruse 🙂

  22. Pingback: Preliminary results of the “Tol Poll’ | Watts Up With That?

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