Lewandowsky et al 2013 is an exercise in content analysis which aims to show that blog comment on a previous paper (LOG12) exhibits “conspiracist ideation”. It contains two major errors:
1) It subsumes all criticism of LOG12 under the heading of “conspiracist ideation”, by definition.
2) It defines “content” in such a way as to eliminate most of the relevant content from its analysis.
“Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation”, a paper by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer and Michael Marriott-Hubble [hereafter LCOM13] is a paper claiming to show that the response to a previous paper by Lewandowsky et al [LOG12] shows the same conspiracist ideation which was the subject of LOG12.
LOG12 claimed to demonstrate conspiracist ideation among climate sceptics by means of an on-line survey. LCOM13 claims to demonstrate conspiracist ideation among climate sceptics by an analysis of their on-line response to LOG12.
LCOM13 is an exercise in content analysis in two parts.
The first part identified all “peer-reviewed publications on conspiracist ideation published in 2012” then searched the net for all Google hits. “Each of those hits was then examined to establish whether it contained any recursive hypotheses, defined as any potentially conspiracist ideation that pertained to the article itself or its author, … or unsubstantiated and potentially conspiracist allegations pertaining to the article’s methodology, intended purpose, or analysis” (LCOM13 p.8)
The second phase of the search traced the response to LOG12 in the blogosphere.
An on-going web search in real time was conducted … during the period August-October 2012. This daily search used Google Alerts to detect newly published material matching the search term “Stephan Lewandowsky.” If new blog posts were discovered that featured links to other relevant blog posts not yet recorded, these were also included in the analysis. To ensure that the collection of hypotheses pertaining to LOG12 was exhaustive, Google was searched for links to the originating blog posts (i.e., first instances of a recursive theory), thereby detecting any further references to the original hypothesis or deviations from it.
Although the second phase of the search encompassed the entire (English-speaking) web, it became apparent early on that the response of the blogosphere was focused around a number of principal sites. To formally identify those sites, we began by analyzing the 30 most-frequently read “skeptic” websites, as identified by Alexa rankings… This enables comparison of the relative traffic of websites covering similar topics.
Each of those 30 sites was then searched by Google for instances of the name of the first author of LOG12 that fell within the period 28 August-18 October 2012. Sites that returned more than 10 hits were considered a principal site, and they are shown in Table 1.
Blog posts that published recursive theories were excerpted … with each excerpt representing a mention of the recursive theory (see Table 3 and Figure 2).” (LCOM p.9)
The results of the first part of the analysis are shown in Table 1 (LCOM p.51)
LOG12 received 443 hits, more than three times as many as all the other 21 peer-reviewed psychological articles on conspiracist ideation published in 2012 put together. LOG12 was the subject of no less than ten recursive hypotheses exhibiting conspiracist ideation, and the other 21 articles none at all.
Clearly, someone is out to get LOG12.
There’s a slight problem with part one of the analysis. LOG12 wasn’t published in 2012, (it still hasn’t been published, and may never be published) so it really shouldn’t be part of the analysis at all.
Turning to part two, the analysis of on-line reactions to the article: Here again, there’s a problem with the criteria for inclusion in the content analysis. Not only is the research arbitrarily limited to the top 30 sceptical sites, but it starts on 28th August, fully a month after the first criticisms had been aired on-line.
In the “Results” section (LCOM13 p.13) it’s stated “LOG12 only received public attention in late August 2012”.
This is false. The first article mentioning LOG12 was a publicity piece published on July 19th, at
which attracted 2 favourable comments.
The first English language articles which provided links to the paper were:
July 27 2012
attracting 1354 comments. This article was reposted on
August 2 2012 at
attracting a further 38 comments. In the meantime, there appeared the following articles:
July 29 2012
July 29 2012
(19 comments). (P Gosselin mentions that LOG12 has already been mentioned on German warmist blogs, which I haven’t tried to trace).
July 30 2012
July 30 2012
The “Results” section (LCOM13 p.13) continues:
“Thus, less than two months elapsed [sic] between its release and the data summarized in Table 2, which represent a snapshot during October 2012 . It is particularly notable that unlike any of the other papers, LOG12 engendered at least 10 recursive hypotheses during that two-month period [sic]. This count subsumes all hypotheses advanced against LOG12, irrespective of whether they addressed presumed flaws in the methodology or accused the authors of deception, incompetence, or outright conspiracies.” [my sic and bold]
In the month before they begin recording “content” for their content analysis, LOG12 had already been torn to shreds on-line. This had happened at Bishop Hill (one of the “big 30” sceptic blogs) at the instigation of blogger FarleyR, but also at the Guardian, the British government-financed climate psychology blog Talkingclimate, the German blog Notrickszone, and at Manicbeancounter. By the time LCOM13 start searching the net, LOG12 was toast, and discussion had largely turned to what should be done about Lewandowsky, the University of Western Australia, and the whole corrupt world of climate sceptic psychology studies.
By starting their analysis a month late, LCOM13 manages to trap some much bigger fish than FarleyR and Manicbeancounter, namely Anthony Watts, Joanne Nova, and Steve McIntyre. By making their count of recursive hypotheses subsume all criticisms they render their analysis null and void.
In an e-mail to me which I posted as a comment n the previous post, John Cook (co-author of LCOM13) talks of Steve McIntyre’s “paranoid theories”.
Proof, if it were needed, that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
* * *
I’m trawling through comments to the above-mentioned articles, trying to identify first occurrences of identifications of the “presumed flaws in the methodology or accusations of deception, incompetence, or outright conspiracies” which I will post here as soon as possible. Credit certainly goes to Barry Woods (posting as “BBCBias” on the Guardian thread) for being first off the mark on a number of counts.