EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Adding plain language summaries to rebuttals on Skeptical Science

Bärbel Winkler and John Mason
Bärbel Winkler and John Mason
  • Skeptical Science (

Skeptical Science (SkS) is an international, non-profit science education organization founded by John Cook in 2007. Its main purpose is to debunk misconceptions and misinformation about human-caused climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, featuring a database with more than 200 rebuttals. Many of these rebuttals date back to 2010 or earlier, some have seen updates since then but in a few cases developments in science have rendered these originals out of date. We started an updating programme some years ago, but are now taking a more structured approach.

We decided that rather than fix these rebuttals in an ad-hoc fashion, a full review would be useful as a first step. This review found that most rebuttals lacked an entry-level version, an easy read for people unfamiliar with the terminology and methods of science, identifying a major accessibility issue. Some rebuttals had a “basic” version but no “intermediate” or “advanced” equivalents. In other cases, there was only an intermediate entry. Some basic-level rebuttals were written more accessibly than others. A number of tasks were identified to undertake.

As an initial step, we took a sample of the most frequently-read rebuttals and updated them to include entry-level versions. These “at-a-glance” sections are short (ideally <500 words) and written in a style that hopefully holds the reader via the following three key principles:


This term refers to engaging with and gently leading the reader into a rebuttal, using things they can relate to: the writer is starting a conversation and needs to do that in an accessible way. Questions can feature here but where appropriate, analogy can be used too. Relating the topic to things in everyday life should always be considered.


Avoid all trip-wires. These can be poorly-written or over-lengthy sentences, overly technical terms without proper and full introduction, grammatical issues, repetition: anything that distracts a reader, including links embedded within the text. You want to hold the reader from the start to finish of the rebuttal without distraction.


Always try to have an especially memorable short finishing-sentence, a take-home that stays with the reader.

In order to check the effectiveness of these at-a-glance sections, we accompanied the prototyping with a blog post to make our readers aware of these additions and to actively ask for their feedback. By the time the EGU meeting takes place we expect to have received enough feedback to be able to judge how helpful and effective these new plain language additions to our basic rebuttals have turned out to be.

How to cite: Winkler, B. and Mason, J.: Adding plain language summaries to rebuttals on Skeptical Science, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-1667,, 2023.

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