RealClimate logo

A problem with YouTube

Filed under: — rasmus @ 7 April 2020

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) started to stream sessions at their annual meeting in San Francisco a few years ago. This kind of participation over the Internet is a nice alternative since many scholars are unable to attend the AGU meetings due to distance, time constraints, time difference and cost.


I watched some of the talks, and the streaming from AGU motivated an idea of sharing videoed talks on YouTube. I started together with my colleagues to film talks that we had already prepared and presented at recent conferences. That way, the only extra effort involved the filming, editing and publishing on YouTube. The plan is to film rehearsals for talks to be presented at future conferences and upload them to YouTube.


We came up with a concept we branded “Heavy MET talk” to get it more streamlined and easier to find on YouTube. The name Heavy MET talks is a combination of an acronym for ‘Meteorological’ (“MET”), with “Heavy” in front to signal more scientific heavy talks. The videos target international colleagues on typical conference level information.


Sharing talks on YouTube may have several potential positive effects: (1) The presenter gets more conscious about the way they present; (2) Instead of reaching an audience of 10-100, we may reach thousands on a platform such as YouTube; (3) It’s more environmentally friendly and reduces travels (a concern in times with spreading viruses); (4) People who cannot attend conferences get the chance of hearing the talk; (5) It increases our visibility.


By coincidence, our efforts with Heavy MET talks started two months before the corona outbreak, but the pandemic underscored the value of this type of outreach.  


After uploading a few talks, I began sharing the talks on Twitter using the search string My tweets were retweeted by several colleagues.


Katharine Hayhoe then alerted about a problem that YouTube also adds suggested videos to the “Heavy MET talks”, some of which having a science denial character on par with metaphorical “contagion” (van den Linden et al. 2017) (the list of suggestions seems to vary somewhat from time to time).


I was aware that some colleagues have complained that serious climate information channels face increasing obstacles from YouTube while denial sites are thriving. There are also similar concerns about organised “anti-science movements” in other disciplines such as vaccination (Hotez, 2020), and the science community has a common interest in preserving the confidence in science.


Both the increasing obstacles on serious material and the promotion of intellectual rubbish are problematic, and I think we need to let YouTube hear that this actually is a big problem that can easily be fixed. According to a report in the Guardian, YouTube has acted on conspiracy theories about 5G and corona, and WhatsApp has allegedly in made changes to limit the spread of conspiracy theories. Hopefully, YouTube will also listen when it comes to climate change.

By spreading lies, bullshit, and falsehoods, the social platforms steal the truth from us.


  1. S. van der Linden, A. Leiserowitz, S. Rosenthal, and E. Maibach, "Inoculating the Public against Misinformation about Climate Change", Global Challenges, vol. 1, pp. 1600008, 2017.
  2. P.J. Hotez, "Combating antiscience: Are we preparing for the 2020s?", PLOS Biology, vol. 18, pp. e3000683, 2020.

53 Responses to “A problem with YouTube”

  1. 51
    Al Bundy says:

    jb: At the very least, you will have a festering concoction of 1) response bias and 2) nonresponse bias. The test statistic will tend to one only if you get honest answers. Don’t count on that – that was my point – and it went straight over your head.

    AB: True, except for the word “honest”. Woolly and his sort honestly believe that the garbage they consume and regurgitate is incredibly cutting edge Truth, not denialism. He’d get better results if he asked for “non-alarmist” instead of “denialist”.

    My sample of one resulted in:

    first a couple actual Heavy MET talks, so they don’t count.
    then some Heavy Metal and Video Game stuff, so nothing there.

    and finally (but still on the first page) the #1 listing was Bjorn Lomborg’s “The Climate Change Scare and the Facts”

    So denialism gets Top Billing

  2. 52
    Keith Woollard says:

    … so without the AB observer selection bias filter that would be about 9 or 10?

  3. 53
    Adam Lea says:

    50: I’ve seen that sort of argument used before. People have tried to claim walking and cycling have a higher carbon footprint than driving, because both activities require burning calories from food, which, if you use the example of beef from cattle reared in Brazil through deforestation of the Amazon, has a very high carbon footprint.