A number of us have been writing letters of complaint to the publishers of Lewandowsky’s two papers insulting climate sceptics, and to the University of Western Australia, with a view to getting the papers withdrawn. I have a feeling our complaints will be unsuccessful. Here’s why.
The authors of the second paper, “Recursive Fury”, are two professors of cognitive psychology and two authors of blogs specialising in countering the views of climate sceptics (the subject of the paper). One blog author, John Cook of Skeptical Science, was awarded an adjunct professorship by the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia as a result of his involvement in this paper.
The authors thank Alexandra Freund, who, (like second author Klaus Oberauer) is a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Zurich, for her comments on an earlier version of the paper.
[Professor Freund is “interested in process of developmental regulation across the lifespan. The central assumption guiding her research is “that individuals actively shape the direction and level of their development through selecting, pursuing, and maintaining goals in interaction with social or environmental opportunity structures.” Her publications include: “Changing eating behaviour vs. losing weight: The role of goal focus for weight loss in overweight women” and “Psychological consequences of longevity: The increasing importance of self-regulation in old age”].
As I pointed out at
when the paper was first published at frontiersin.org the first two comments, within one minute of each other, were from Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Professor Michael Ashley, who then had a good laugh together over the fact that their near simultaneous posting must be the result of a conspiracy. So that’s six professors involved in the story before we even start looking at the paper.
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“Recursive Fury” has an extensive bibliography, including many sources which are not actually quoted anywhere in the paper. These include papers on: the speeches of Ayatollah Khomeini; the Egyptian uprising; schizophrenia; institutional mistrust among multiethnic men who have sex with men; conspiracy beliefs among men who have sex with men; homophobia among men who have sex with men; antisemitism; and sexual (dys)function and the quality of sexual life in patients with colorectal cancer.
One author who is cited extensively is V. Swami. Three of his papers are mentioned in the bibliography, and they are referred to a total of six times in the paper.
For example, Swami, V. (2012). on “Social psychological origins of conspiracy theories: the case of the Jewish conspiracy theory in Malaysia” is the source quoted for the statement in the paper that conspiracist ideation is associated with right-wing political leanings.
Here are some of the things Swami has to say about conspiracy theories and the people who hold them:
“… because the critique of power offered by conspiracy theories is often simplistic, they are susceptible to racist and exclusionary narratives, which in turn create discord and public mistrust…”
“… many scholars came to view conspiracy theorists as paranoid and delusional; that is, conspiracy theories were viewed as the products of extreme paranoia, delusional thinking, and narcissism. This individual or collective pathology was thought to effectively stunt any form of socio-political action by conspiracy theorists, which in turn heightened their paranoia.”
“Recent work has provided some support for the idea that conspiracy theorists have particular personality profiles marked by paranoia and delusional thinking. For example, two studies have reported that belief in conspiracy theories is positively associated with schizotypal tendencies, that is, the tendency to be suspicious, paranoid, and experience magical thinking and unusual beliefs..”
All these statements are supported by reference to peer-reviewed literature, some of it by Dr. Swami himself.
Swami’s paper reports that “in the Malaysian context, belief in the Jewish conspiracy theory may only be weakly associated with belief in other conspiracy theories. Rather, belief in this conspiracist, anti-Semitic narrative appears to serve ideological demands and needs that may be more pronounced in the Malaysian context.” while
“belief in general conspiracy theories was significantly associated with right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation, albeit weakly.”
So the source which Lewandowsky quotes as establishing “that conspiracist ideation is associated with right-wing political leanings” in fact establishes a weak association between anti-Semitism and other conspiracy theories, which are themselves weakly associated with right-wing authoritarianism – “at least in the Malaysian context”.
One might wonder why Lewandowsky et al thought a study of anti-semitism among Malaysian ethnic Malays to be relevant to a study of conspiracy ideation among climate sceptics, particularly as it provided only weak support for the point they make.
Lewandowsky’s paper, “Recursive Fury” was edited and peer-reviewed by Dr. Viren Swami.
Dr. Swami is a prolific and enthusiastic author. When he’s not writing about conspiracy theories, he’s writing about beauty. He is the Attraction Expert at
the Science of a Beautiful You, where he writes on:
“Do Appearances Matter?”, “How to Find Love: A Plan”, “Why The Workplace is a Hot Spot for Romance”, and “Getting Up Close and Personal”.
He is also author or co-author of 213 peer-reviewed articles on aesthetics, body image, and tattoos, among other subjects, including: “Context matters: investigating the impact of contextual information on aesthetic appreciation of paintings by Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso”, “Men’s oppressive beliefs predict their breast size preferences in women” and “The influence of practitioner nationality, experience, and sex in shaping patient preferences for dentists”. He’s been turning out one scientific paper every two weeks, on average, since 2005. And he still finds time to edit and peer-review the papers of colleagues who who cite him.
Most of these papers are behind paywalls, but I managed to find this one from 2007: “Perception of Female Buttocks and Breast Size in Profile” by Furnham and Swami.
The summary says:
“Results showed significant main effects of breast size (with an overall preference for small breasts) but not of buttock size. Gender of the participants did not have a significant effect on the variables, although there was a significant interaction of breast and buttock size. The findings suggest that variables such as breast size are minor cues of female physical attractiveness”.
It seems that the psychology of the appreciation of the human form is plagued by the same secrecy as palaeclimatology when it comes to publishing the data necessary to the interpretation of results – in this case the stimulus material used in the experiment. Neither “Perception of Female Buttocks and Breast Size in Profile” nor Kleinke & Staneski (1980). “First impressions of female bust size” nor Koff & Benevage (1998) “Breast size perception and satisfaction” satisfy this basic need. In the interest of scientific openness, I shall appoint myself the Steve McIntyre of voyeurology and demand to see the data.
This is vital, since each new study in this area contradicts the previous one. Furnham and Swami report a preference for small breasts, while Kleine and Staneski, using written stimuli, found that men prefer medium-sized breasts. (Could this possibly be due to the wording of the descriptions – the so-called Goldilocks-Porridge Effect?) However, when the same experimenters used colour photographs, they found that women with smaller breasts were rated as competent, ambitious, intelligent, moral and modest. while women with large breasts were judged to have the opposite characteristics (i.e. they were cack-handed, dumb slags, basically). It is clearly difficult to judge these results without seeing the visual evidence for oneself.
The Furnham & Swami study aimed to judge the dual influence of breasts and buttocks, so naturally “used modified versions of Wiggins, Wiggins, and Conger’s (1968) nude female silhouettes in profile, which combine three breast categories (small, medium, large) and three buttocks sizes (small, medium, large) to produce a total of 9 different combinations of stimuli. This manipulation allowed us to test the effect of changing buttocks and breast size on female physical attractiveness.”
[Wiggins, Wiggins, and Conger (1968), since you ask, discovered that large breast preference was associated with a "Playboy" image, while preference for large buttocks was related to an "anal character" syndrome].
In the absence of the stimulus material, let’s look at the responses, which came from a “total of 114 British undergraduate students (71 females)”, which I calculate, means just 43 males to judge the manipulation of 9 combinations of breast and buttock sizes.
Here’s all we know of the stimuli:
“The stimuli consisted of 9 nude female silhouettes, prepared by Wiggins et al. (1968) in such a manner that the size of breasts and buttocks could be varied systematically. Three levels of breast size (small, medium, large) and three levels of buttocks size (small, medium, large) were employed for this study. No other alterations were made within each category, and all other sex-specific information (e.g., the hairstyle) was kept constant. Breast and buttocks were manipulated through the computer modification of the selected attribute.”
Of all the ways there are of manipulating breasts and buttocks, computer modification is surely the least satisfying. Could the liking for small breasts possibly be due to a preference for non-photoshopped photos? In the discussion it is proposed that perhaps a “reason for the current findings may be the nature of the stimuli used. It is of note that figures depicting silhouettes with large breasts were somewhat unrealistic in comparison with small-breasted figures”.
I can see the headlines now: “Students prefer women with realistic breasts, study shows”.
I’ll have to leave the analysis of the results to those less statistically challenged than I. Maybe someone could explain this:
“Mauchley’s test of sphericity yielded a significant interaction of breast and buttocks size (x2 = 65.73, p < 0.001). Due to the violation of the sphericity assumption, the Greenhouse-Geisser correction was applied to the degrees of freedom”.
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Our complaints to the editors of the two Lewandowsky papers made a number of disparate points, but they all come down to the judgement that the papers do not come up to the standards expected of a peer-reviewed scientific paper.
Frankly, looking at what goes on in the world of peer-reviewed social science, I don’t think we have a leg to stand on.