Chatbot Debates Climate Change Deniers on Twitter so You Don’t Have to

By Jennifer Welsh | November 3, 2010 12:41 pm

twiterbot-2Sick of chasing down climate denialists himself, Nigel Leck put his programming skills to use for him. He created the Twitter bot @AI_AGW, who also goes by the name “Turing Test.”

Every five minutes the bot searches Twitter for tweets relating to climate change denialism, and automatically responds to the posters using a database of hundreds of rebuttals, which include links to information and videos. Christopher Mims at Technology Review talked to Leck about the project:

The database began as a simple collection of responses written by Leck himself, but these days quite a few of the rejoinders are culled from a university source whom Leck says he isn’t at liberty to divulge.

Some of @AI_AGW’s debates have gone on for hours or days, with the recipient not knowing they are talking to a bot, even though its handle says AI and it includes a link to the Wikipedia page on the Turing test. The program is smart enough to run through a list of responses, which is especially helpful when debating with people who keep throwing the same arguments at you time after time. Leck has seen all different kinds of responses to the bot, but most fall into two categories, he told Mims:

“If [the chatbot] actually argues them into a corner, it tends to be two crowds out there,” says Leck. “There’s the guns and God crowd, and their parting shot will be ‘God created it that way’ or something like that. I don’t know how you answer that.” The second crowd, Leck says, are skeptics so unyielding they won’t be swayed by any amount of argumentation.

twitterbot-3One downside of the bot is its inability to detect sarcasm, a distinctly human ability. Some of the tweets the bot is responding to today are from people who can’t believe that their new representatives don’t believe in climate change and people sarcastically complaining about the cold with the ubiquitous tweet “Global warming my ass!”

When this happens, Leck tries to apologize to the poster and add them to the program’s “whitelist” so they don’t get a response tweet again. The bot also has a learning algorithm, so it can gradually be trained to tell the difference between sarcastic tweeters and true deniers. The next step: Leck would like to enable the bot to learn new arguments from other climate debates that constantly zing around on Twitter.

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Bad Astronomy: Two posts about denialism, climate change and otherwise
The Intersection: Kind Of Like A Lot Of Climate Change Skeptics, Evolution Denialists, And The AntiVax Movement

Image: Twitter/@AI_AGW

  • Denierbot

    Chatbot is the only believer Global Warming has left.

  • amphiox

    Denierbot, this is a question of fact, not belief.

  • Denierbot


    To both Chatbot and those who agree with it, its a question of programming.

  • amphiox

    Reality is that which does not go away upon reprogramming.

  • Sensibot

    How can a future outcome be a “question of fact” when it has not yet occurred?

  • Denierbot

    Because Chatbot is a mystical spirit that can predict the future!

  • hf

    How can a future outcome be a “question of fact” when it has not yet occurred?

    Probability theory: The logic of science.

  • Emil

    Climate change is a scientific question. Leave it to the scientists to answer it. What bugs me has nothing to do with whether “climate change” (global warming or, in case of theory being disproved, global cooling) is happening. The climate obviously ALWAYS changes. However, that is not an excuse for fascism, as Al Gore and his followers seems to think. My problem is that the global warming DEBATE is just an excuse for expanding governmental power and really has nothing to do with the global warming SCIENCE at all.

  • Scoffbot

    Futures trading was linited due to governmental interference when all those financial idiots screwed up (again). So they invented carbon trading, which is the same thing under an eco-package. Governments are too dumb to see the switcheroo, and so look for scinetists to give them ‘facts’.
    There are no facts in climate change. There are statistical trends, which are affected by too many variables to count, let alone understand within today’s science.
    Has anyone yet asked – given the huge gamut of probable outcomes in climate as predicted since the science began: what is the probability that this latest rash of predictions is going to be another load of confused waffle?

  • Super Jesus

    It would be handy to have that database Chatbot uses since we all see the same nonsense getting tossed around. Better still, I’d love to see a field so I could just point Chatbot at a specific comment thread just so I could watch the conversation from the front row and not worry about offending my ignorant Rush Limbaugh worshiping brother in law.

  • WereTaco

    The planet is becoming hotter. That is not in question, the real question is whether or not it is caused by carbon emissions from human activity.

    Since there is a fair amount of scientists arguing on both sides how can one without various degrees in fields like climatology or geology say they know global warming is caused by humans? Unless you can somehow show the research to be faulty you really can’t. The only way for you to really know is understand the science behind it, then you can make a fairly informed decision.

    Basically most people ( myself included ) are too lazy or busy to actually do some work and get extremely comfortable with the subject, in short most people are too ignorant of the subject to be able to voice any type of self-informed positions. Oh how we appeal to authority!

    There is probably grains of truth on both sides of this argument, but I don’t think the issue is settled enough for government to implement carbon taxes, cap and trade, or anything else that would make Al Gore and his buddies rich. :)

    –wheydenreich at gmail

  • Eliza Strickland

    @ Super Jesus: Here, at least, is a handy list of the arguments typically made by “climate change skeptics,” and what the science really says on each topic.

  • Eliza Strickland

    @ Emil, Scoffbot, WereTaco:

    The scientific consensus is strong and clear: heat-trapping gases emitted by humans since the industrial revolution are warming the planet. Here’s a good report on the state of climate science, produced by more than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries.

    Here’s a striking global temperature graph from NASA.

    Here’s a study (available for free download) on the credibility of climate scientists on both sides of the “debate” over man-made global warming. It found that 97–98% of the most active and respected researchers in the field agree that human activities are warming our planet; it also found that “the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC [anthropogenic climate change] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor


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