Woowoo Ads on Universe Today

Hey everyone, I’ve noticed there’s a Twitterstorm going on out there over the kinds of ads showing up on Universe Today. You know the ones for 2012, and strange theories about how Einstein was wrong. These are the contextual ads provided by Google Adsense, and without them, Universe Today would be a shadow of its former self.

Tim Farley over at Skeptical Software Tools wrote a reasoned response to the controversy of allowing woowoo ads on a scientific site, and it pretty much matches my point of view. But I chimed in on the comments of his site with a more detailed response. Here’s what I had to say:

“Thanks Tim, I appreciate the reasoned response to the situation. What you’ve described is essentially my position on the matter. Google Adsense is the only advertiser out there that will actually pay the bills, so I can pay the writers, server costs, etc. Without the money from Adsense, Universe Today would be a shadow of its current self. I’d layoff the writers, move the site to a $10/month host, and go get a real job.

And don’t think that I haven’t tried to bring in real advertisers. I’ve started up advertising networks, cold-called every telescope manufacturer, and begged my readers to help find sponsors for Universe Today – and that was met with silence. I know that it’s just a matter of time before lots of advertising moves online, but until then what do people suggest we do?

So for now, it’s Adsense. Big, bold Adsense ads that take up a tiny fraction of the site’s total real estate. Compare that to a newspaper or magazine and you’ll see that UT has less advertising.

The big complaint, obviously, is that there are 2012 and woowoo ads selling all kinds of nutty theories. But those ads paid for a multi-part series of articles that debunked every aspect of the 2012 silliness. Those ads keep the BAUT forum going. And they’re not the only ads on the site, there are also ads for telescopes, trips to the Kennedy Space Center and other space-related stuff.

So why don’t I filter out the woowoo ads? I tried that. Within a day or so, I filled up my filter list completely and it was just a fraction of the ads out there. And there’s no way I can see them all. And if you filter some, it just lets others float to the top.

We’re at an uncomfortable time in the world economy, with massive advertising resources shifting from the old media publishers to the new online world. Universe Today and the other space media sites are perfectly positioned to reap the rewards when the shift is actually finished. And when it does, we’ll have lots of very appropriate advertisers, spending the kind of money required to keep these kinds of sites going. It’ll be awesome, and there’ll be ice cream for everyone.

But until then, we have to do what we can to survive. I’m grateful that I can pay salaries to 6 full and part time writers and still feed my children. And the woowoos are contributing to that. I think it’s a hilarious transfer of wealth, honestly.

Universe Today is financially stable and growing nicely. As it grows, I can bring on more writers and provide better coverage. The site is almost completely immune the current troubles in the world economy. (I’ve worked in my basement developing Universe Today in my spare time before and I can do it again)

If you don’t like ads, I suggest you install Adblock for Firefox. Zip done, never see an ad again. And the when the future has arrived, I’ll let you know.

But if you want to complain about Universe Today, I beg you to complain about the content, tone and coverage of the articles and our respect for science and skepticism. Don’t worry about the ads, they’ll get sorted out soon enough.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today”

So there you go.

48 Replies to “Woowoo Ads on Universe Today”

  1. I think it’s the perfect irony. I write an article debunking the loony 2012 theories, the loons pay for my efforts. Some call it Karma…

    Awesome post Fraser, I’ll be using this as my standard response from now on. “Got a problem with the ads? Go speak to my boss, he’ll set ya straight…”

    Cheers! Ian

  2. Golly. I read UT regularly and I blank the ads without needing software: it’s just what my brain does.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I have never seen an ad here. I use firefox with the adblocker plus plugin which removes all ads from web pages. I don’t mind if sites want to generate revenue with ads because I NEVER see them, which is how I like it.

  4. There is nothing better than seeing an add for 2012 at the top of the site, and a single line below that, saying why the add for 2012 is ridiculous.
    Besides, who isn’t into such a “hilarious transfer of wealth” to an organization that takes the time to explain why its so hilarious. All in favour of taking easy money from supporters of 2012 say ‘I’.


  5. I have been a Linux user for years, and a Firefox/Adblock+ user for some time now. I occasionally turn Adblock OFF – disable when I feel generous, ON enable when grumpy. Thusly, I’m sending a message to advertisers that I recognise the need to support content producers such as U.T. However I’m not going to be swamped by junk advertising. I AM going to remain in control of my viewing, but am willing to compromise for quality content, including advertising. Directed ads would be nice – maybe. Televison advertising is now a failure because the ad industry has P.O’d the viewer. Give the viewer some say, and we will respond. How to do it? Thats YOUR problem Google. The ball’s in your court.

  6. Go Fraser! I completely understand your position. I use AdSense on my site to. For me it may not pay the wages, but it covers the cost of hosting and domain renewal.

    I see exactly where you’re coming from and so does anyone with an ounce of understanding about the Internet works and what ‘context’ based ads mean.

    Keep rockin’

  7. I dont have any problems with those ads. if they can make this great site running then its ok with me. great work guys 🙂
    most people should know all that 2012 is bull…. anyways

  8. Fraser- you have a great site- I find it surprising that you have received negative comments- Lighten up folks.
    These ads have never bothered me in the least. They are just as funny as the ones that promote Miracle Male Enhancement Remedies or Russian Mail Order Brides!

  9. People serious about science could thank woowoo advertisers for there kind help and smile while the silly advertisements show up. Knowing better.

    Great job Fraser.
    Love your site.


  10. AWESOME Response Frasier! Let all the naysayers pay the bills and then they can complain. Until then, bring on the woowoo and 2012!

    Keep up the GREAT work!

  11. Firstly I love the site. Visit it daily. I think if you can get the advertising, who cares what the ads say. The complainers should appreciate what they have here. I’m not surprised by the negative comments. Anyone that has ever visted your forum knows that the majority of the posters there will jump down the throat of any person presenting an idea or theory they don’t agree with. Keep up the great work you guys.

  12. The way I see if, the 2012 people are paying money to Google to have their ads on related sites. The ads show up here, a site on which all of the claims of said 2012 nuts are shown to be outlandish and downright foolish. So in other words…they’re paying to have themselves made to look stupid. I’m perfectly okay with that.

    Keep up the good fight Fraser!

  13. Advise all your subscribers to use Firefox with AdBlock Plus. Problem solved.

  14. *applause*

    I agree that it’s a fantastic transfer of wealth and a great way to remind readers that here at UT, you expose it for the bunk it is.

  15. The ads make you look cheep and lazy.
    Must be a better alternative like telescope and science related sponsors.

  16. Loyal universetoday reader. I can’t believe people complain about ads on this site. You obviously put alot of work and effort in maintaining this site, it can’t be done all free. Someone has to pay the bills. Another case of taking and not giving back.

    btw, you could try buysellads.com. They automate ad purchase/selling.

  17. This is funny and ironic in a way. Maybe put a small permanent link below the ads saying “Why 2012 will be like any other year” or something? 🙂 Just kidding, but I’m happy that the site is financially stable, you are a permanent part of my daily Internet intake.

  18. I have no complaint about the content of the ads. Usually, I mentally block them out anyway. I do, however, have a complaint about their position on the page. The block at the top of the page is annoying because it is longer than it is wide. Seems to me that it would be considerably less annoying if it were at least horizontal instead of vertical. The ads take up so much real estate at the top of the page…

    Can you guys do something about that?


  19. Here’s the dirty secret Drew, the ads are place there because they get a good response from visitors. If they were less intrusive, they’d earn less money for the site. I still think that’s less intrusive than a full-page ad in a newspaper or magazine, but you’re totally blinded to it.

    The solution is Adblock. Seriously, it’s wonderful.

  20. i wonder who pays the 2012 loons. is there really people who pay theese so called people

  21. Fraiser, I sometimes disable Adblock+ just to see what all the hullabaloo is about. Seriously, Adblock is wonderful. Otherwise, mental block should suffice, at least if your visiting UT!

  22. No complaint here about those 2012 ads, I understand that it pays the bills.

    I just was wondering how funny it looked.
    If you go to youtube and watch the Darwin and evolution video’s they also gets flooded by those creationists ads.

    The only concern I have is that new people might think that the 2012 must be true since these ads are shown on a science site.

    But the very fact that those creationists and 2012 people have to put such an effort in marketing to convince people that it is all true that this only is a big red flag that it is BS.

  23. like many of you, i must use “mind block” on the ads – because i really don’t see them. the ones i do see are usually related to things i find interesting anyhow and occassionally i will click through just to help pay the bills, ya’ dig? who knows when you might find something interesting in there…

    it doesn’t surprise me to hear that we’ve probably received negative comments on other sites about having ads – especially after having seen some of the outlandish responses here and there from visitors. (note, that’s visitors – and not readers.) i see a lot of transient responses that direct folks back to other sites made by people with fictious names and fictious emails addresses. you know – we aren’t dumb. it only takes a couple of mouse clicks to figure out what forums you frequent and why you say the things you do. but, you know what?

    it really doesn’t matter.

    over the years i’ve stayed right here and never contributed to anywhere else because i believe in “Universe Today”. it’s content is fair and impartial – and well done. fraser, ian, nancy, nicholas… all of the writers here do their best, and although we occassionally get a beating from visitors, we continue to smile and come back for more. i am proud to be associated with UT – and that is why you see my real name here.

    ads or no ads… 😉

  24. I don’t mind the ads at all. They take up only a little space on the page and it is pretty easy to scroll past them to get to the good stuff. Without the ads I would never have found coffeefool.com. I love coffee and that site really delivers. Thanks for the ads Fraser. And thanks for a wonderful site.

  25. I, for one, am deeply concerned about the lack of forethought being shown here! I mean, where will the $ come from after 2012? We need to be thinking again to the next end of world hoax and soliciting ads now!

    When will it be? 2015? 2018? 2050?

    What will it be? Giant earthquakes caused by a bearded grey-haired guy? Meteor strike? Giant pasta strands wielded by the FSM?

    In all seriousness, I get the reason for ads, and it’s never bothered me in the slightest. It has, however, made me laugh.

    I doubt the complainers would pay for an ad-free, subscription or pay per click version of the site.

    And frankly, I doubt those who go in for the 2012 … content … are likely to be avid readers of UT – it’s a bit misguided on the part of Google’s SW.

  26. I have a complaint against the advertiser that offers a screen-saver of the rotating Earth—-the ad shows the Earth rotating in the wrong direction!

    Certainly the rotation directon is Not controversial!(?) Can’t we
    request that the ad be changed to show the correct motion?


  27. Hi Fraser, I visit this site daily and love all the fascinating news stories and pictures here; I am also a fan of your podcast. This is the first time I’ve written a comment on an article but I felt a need to this time. While I agree with everything you have said, I am uncomfortable with the use of the word “woowoo,” which has pejorative connotations. And while it’s clear that these 2012 conspiracy theories are paranoia with no evidence to support them, there are many other areas that this term is applied to, and the use of it suggests (to me and many others) a degree of closed-mindedness and cynicism that IMO do not reflect the true open-minded skepticism of a scientist. Maybe “woowoo” was used by the readers who were complaining to you, rather than it being a term you chose to use yourself, but I just wanted to flag it up as a loaded term that perhaps is worth some consideration. I personally don’t tend to read sites that use it because it tells me a lot about the ethos there.

    Kindest regards,

  28. The subject of those ads pops up every once in a while in a comment. I sometimes encourage people to just click on them, every once in a while (like I do), to maximise the ad revenue for UT.
    It’s supreme irony: extract a few cents off THEM to pay towards a site which flies in the face of their “philosophy”. It gives me some kind of a warped and evil sense of satisfaction 😉

    keep on clicking those ads, folks….. and have a chuckle to yourselves.

  29. I’ve come to think of this site as a companion a friend. It’s grown, I’ve grown. If my real life friend decided to wear an Adidas or Nike T-shirt I wouldn’t like him or her any less. The soul of the site is what counts, not what it wears.

  30. There is one problem with those ads that has not been adressed yet: they make it almost impossible to send, shall we say, scientifically disoriented people to the website.

    Up to now, people suggested adblocking or using the ads to “harm” hoaxers. However, this (and the fact that you know how to write a comment here in the first place) marks you all as part of the more educated users of Universe Today: You know how the web works, you know how adwords works.

    However, I often come across people who, let’s be honest here, don’t understand much of what’s going on around them. If they ask me “I heard of those exploding stars out there — how come they did not yet blow up our satellites?” I’d love to have a resource like Universe Today or Bad Astronomy to send them to, but to this clientele, content and ads on a website blur together and they leave more disoriented than before. For quite some time, I’ve stopped refering people to those two sites as, for the average internet consumer, they’ve become too ad-laden and irritating.

    I do not, however, suggest that you abandon advertising, just that you give your site template a makeover to make it simpler, smaller (shorter start pages mean less traffic for you to pay) and that you restrict yourself to more fitting ads.

  31. The thing that interests me is how much money the 2012 cult must be generating. 🙂 Obviously enough to pay for the adds.

    They dont bother me, great site, long may it live and thrive.


  32. The nuisance factor of the woowoo ads pales in comparison with the exchanges between the EU/PC and BB/gravity camps.

  33. After reading this I turned off AdBlocker on universetoday.com. I don’t mind viewing some ads when I get free, interesting content.

    And Google AdSense often does not make any (sense).

    Keep it up, great site, great podcasts.

  34. We appreciate seeing all the supportive comments, and I certainly want to say how grateful I am to be able to be part of UT and the wonderful community of readers we have. I also wanted to add my 2 cents that the advertising on UT is certainly less intrusive than other sites (which shall go unnamed!) that have pop-up ads, or a full page that comes up as an ad and you have to click to get to the article. And as someone else mentioned, the 2012 ads aren’t the only ads that show up–there’s some good ones too that I’ve actually found useful.

  35. Keep up the good job guys – and I must say that I love the irony of some goofball site paying for the dissemination of real science on this site…

  36. What can I say more? I fully support your reply to T. Farley and the readers comments I have read so far. I will keep reading UT on a daily basis.
    Keep on the good work.

  37. Hi Fraser, great post. I have never been bothered by the ADs and sometimes I don’t even see them. You and your team are absolutely great, keep up the good work.

  38. Thanks for the explanation. And thanks for reminding me to turn adblock off on Universe Today, you deserve any fractional pennies you get from me browsing this site.

  39. Fraser,

    You have a great site. Until everything in the world is free, you are subject to the laws of economics like everyone else. If an ad is not illegal, immoral, or unethical, accept the revenue source. Loony is not the same as illegal. The 2012 people are loony. Who cares. The readers asking for you to act in a ‘pure’ fashion don’t have to figure out how to pay your bills. Keep up the great work. The vast majority of us appreciate your work.

  40. I have no opinion on advertising ‘controversial’ ideas, but I’m
    quite upset to see an ad that mis-represents a non-controversial, well know fact: occasionally, there is an ad for a free ‘3 D Earth Screensaver’. Look at it; click on it to make it animate—-they show the earth rotating the wrong direction!!!


  41. Fraser, You are doing a terrific job with UT (and Astronomy Cast) and I think it’s great that the 2012 nuts are helping pay for a website that helps debunk them.

    I do have a question about the economics of web advertising. Do you earn revenue from the ad simply appearing on UT or when someone clicks on the ad — or both? If you earn more money when someone clicks on these ads then I’m going to click on one or more each time I visit your website and I’d encourage others to do the same. It only takes a few seconds and if it helps support a great resource like UT it’s well worth it!

  42. Ironic in a way like the astronomers of days gone by, when they made there money form astrology to support there astronomy work.

    Bleed them dry UT 🙂 and everyone should click on them every now and then to help support UT, turn off those ad blockers now and then and help out the site. wo wo wo.

  43. Well now. Could a visitor to this site be lured in by one of the less obvious and more deceptive woo adverts? I think they could. Just as certain cults offer to do you a service, and before you know you’ve given them your debit card and had your ears pierced.

    I’m curious about the system. Does it work selectively from both sides? Would you promote your site through AdSense? If you’re pro-choice then can you avoid being paired with pro-life? If you’re for adult readers (I don’t mean dirty) then can you avoid that being mistaken?

    When the tsunami hit across Asia, some lesser news web sites (computer sites that I read) initially got reports of the crisis adorned with Google ads for surfing equipment. I wrote in and somebody stopped it.

    I’m gonna post this comment at Bad Astronomy too because I came to this from there.

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