Recursive Fury: Lew’s Waterloo

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

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/were-only-human/a-climate-for-conspiracy.html

which attracted 2 favourable comments.

The first English language articles which provided links to the paper were:

July 27 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/jul/27/climate-sceptics-conspiracy-theorists

attracting 1354 comments. This article was reposted on

August 2 2012 at

http://talkingclimate.org/are-climate-sceptics-more-likely-to-be-conspiracy-theorists/

attracting a further 38 comments. In the meantime, there appeared the following articles:

July 29 2012 

http://www.bishop-hill.net/discussion/post/1904675

(70 comments)

July 29 2012

http://notrickszone.com/2012/07/29/australian-psychologists-claim-climate-science-skeptics-are-the-moon-landing-conspiracy-theorists/

(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

http://manicbeancounter.com/2012/07/30/lewandowsky-et-al-2012-motivated-rejection-of-science-part-1/

(6 comments)

July 30 2012

http://manicbeancounter.com/2012/07/30/lewandowsky-et-al-2012-motivated-rejection-of-science-part-2/

(3 comments)

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.

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17 Responses to Recursive Fury: Lew’s Waterloo

  1. foxgoose says:

    Geoff – excellent work!
    Why don’t you repost this at Lew’s blog so that it gets read by his some of colleagues?

  2. tlitb1 says:

    “Thus, less than two months elapsed between its release and the data summarized in Table 2, which represent a snapshot during October 2012.”

    Nice patient analysis there Mr Chambers. Noting they arbitrarily ignore a mere 33% of the time and a 1000+commented article in a major newspaper, a month before their analysis are some more data that needs to be logged in this comedy.

    They’re just shot through with vague movable definitions like this aren’t they? This is what gets me about these fellows they seem unerringly dedicated to ambiguity and imprecision about anything that might count, and yet puff themselves up with ponderous over analysis on trivialities.

    I think all we can learn from the papers is to see their desires revealed; if they want that to be the “two months” of interest to them – then it is! Any explanations can come later! So what if they arbitrarily ignore 33% of the time they could have used?😉

    It is useful pointing out that they are vague about how they assess the concept of “release” , as it kinda supports the idea that they haven’t a clue how to be sure of anything to do with communication and timing.

    The collection of bemused responses from the blogs that they now call “data” in their crock of shit paper are in fact the normal mundane reactions anyone would give to the kind of idiots who don’t know when their paper is “released” 🙂

  3. tlitb1
    “This is what gets me about these fellows they seem unerringly dedicated to ambiguity and imprecision about anything that might count, and yet puff themselves up with ponderous over analysis on trivialities”.
    Agreed. I’ve got into a discussion with Brandon Shollenberger, whose WUWT article restarted the discussion on Lewandowsky, about the question of content analysis. We agree that it’s a valid academic exercise; provided that academic norms are respected. Brandon said, (and I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him):
    “There is value in examining the comments people make, especially when they make them in a easily documented manner.  That said, any research done on individuals is highly sensitive, especially when those individuals are identified in the work …  Conducting research on a group you are openly hostile toward is highly questionable.  Publishing work which claims to find negative qualities in such a group is almost impossible to do in an ethical manner.  The authors showed absolutely no awareness of or concern for these issues, and I believe that qualifies as gross academic misconduct”.
    For over a century, conservatives and Marxists (for example) have managed to conduct a civilised debate about their differing interpretations of history and society. Green activists are not capable of continuing this tradition. That alone should disqualify their analyses from civilised debate.

  4. manicbeancounter says:

    Well done Geoff for your lucid analysis.
    Your first point is

    “1) It subsumes all criticism of LOG12 under the heading of “conspiracist ideation”, by definition.”

    This mirrors the stance of LOG12. Prof. Lewandowsky (along with his mates) takes the view that they are on the side of revealed truth, so any doubters must be liars or nutters. My first posting on 30th July made the point that the “truth” that the paper is not in pointing to the overwhelming scientific evidence, but to some ropey opinion polls. There is no basis for viewing sceptics as holding inferior opinions. So the fury that resulted is not blinkered thought processes – such as due to a “conspiracist ideation” – but due to somebody deliberately mis-representing the beliefs of others whom they dislike. Lewandowsky et al 2013 thus omits the more relevant and significant alternative hypotheses in analysing the reactions to LOG12. LOG12 is a paper that tries to give scientific justification to ignoring criticisms of the CAGW hypothesis (and the policies to counter the alleged future impacts) on the basis of a poorly conducted and highly biased questionnaire. In turn, the CAGW relies on multiple levels of hypotheses, (with little evidence to support) whilst ignoring or distorting the adverse evidence to the contrary.
    At every stage, it is the claim that weak, hearsay, evidence should take primacy over stronger, but contrary, evidence. That is the sctual recursivity that is occurring here.

  5. tlitb1 says:

    @geoffchambers says:
    “… it’s a valid academic exercise; provided that academic norms are respected.”

    I agree. Speaking as someone who was intially(overly) sceptical of social science I started reading some books on the subject. I know I have commented on this before at BH (and probably becoming a bore🙂 ) but once I found Daniel Kahneman I decided he is now the archetype for me of how to do this stuff.

    Kahneman showed me there *is* a science there. Kahneman shows genuine self-control and a willingness to examine his prejudices, together with a persuasive curiosity about human behaviour that is appealing and revealling. Starting from him I now play a game and whenever a new paper or popular science book comes out regarding social observations I check the index for the Kahneman references. He seems always to be there😉

    As a side issue: Philip Tetlock – the guy who has made detailed ground work studies on how expertise is overrated – is another guy like this who seems less interested in spinning point scoring theories and more interested for the sake of the pursuit of knowledge. Tetlock too is another one should check indexes for in any paper on the subject.

    So when Steve McIntyre pointedly noted a Kahneman letter doing the rounds

    http://climateaudit.org/2012/10/05/kahneman-scathes-social-psychologists/

    criticising certain aspects of sloppy social science, I think that stung Lewandowsky, who must clearly know somewhere in his heart that he isn’t even at the foothills of Kahnemans ability.
    It seems Lewandowsky must have been aware of the CA post since straight after that he sprung back with a less credible reference IMO to Kahneman

    http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/lewandowskyReplications.html

    In that he posed some Kahneman’s work as supporting some aspect of his own work. Quite an eye-opener I thought in how off base Lew was there. I commented on the site in a the most neutral way I thought possible trying to highlight some issues with Lews analysis of Kahneman.

    I think there are some who may think Lew has Machiavellian schemes behind his behaviour but I say to them you really should see him as a case study in lack of self-awareness. Almost to be pitied. I think if one takes this on board then this will arm them in their analysis; Lew has great weaknesses because of the emotion and the righteousness he feels. I think one need be patient and forensic and put aside one’s *own* emotions to get to the heart of the critique on him as Geoff has here.

    I find this stuff fascinating.🙂

  6. Paul Matthews says:

    One further simple point that’s worth making is that LCOM13 has been withdrawn.
    It was posted on the journal website over a month ago and at that time the pdf was available.
    A few days later it disappeared, with no explanation provided by the journal.
    I’ve just written to the editor:
    ……………………………………………………………………………..

    Dear Professor Little

    I would be grateful if you could clarify the status of the article
    http://www.frontiersin.org/Personality_Science_and_Individual_Differences/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073/abstract
    at the journal of which you are chief editor.
    About a month ago the paper was posted there, but a few days later the
    paper was withdrawn (in the sense that pdf file disappeared).
    Please could you provide some explanation?
    Thanks,

    Paul Matthews

    School of Mathematical Sciences,
    University of Nottingham,
    University Park,
    Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

  7. foxgoose says:

    Paul – good point, the status of that original paper is key because, as Geoff has said, if it doesn’t exist in published form the second paper in invalid.\

    Why don’t you repost this at Lewandowsky’s own blog – for some reason he’s give up moderating it and detailed criticisms of the paper by Geoff, myself and A.Scott have been left there.

    The point is – it’s under UWA’s imprint and other academics post and read there so it’s getting our criticisms beyond the Sceptic blogosphere.

    http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/news.php?p=2&t=85&&n=188

  8. Paul Matthews says:

    From: Frontiers in Psychology Editorial Office
    To: Paul Matthews
    Subject: Re: Clarification of article status?

    Dear Dr. Matthews,
    Thank you for your message. Please allow me to clarify that the PDF version of the manuscript has been temporarily removed for the purpose of further typesetting. The manuscript is currently in production stage and the full manuscript will be published in the coming weeks. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns.

    Best,

    ….
    On behalf of:
    …..

  9. tlitb1 says:

    @Paul Matthews
    Well I believe the journal did respond to Jeff Condon about the specific issue with the reference to him so maybe that is all they are changing?

    @geoff
    I have a comment in moderation. may be because it was a bit OT, but thought I give you a heads up in case it was just the links in it triggering spam filtering🙂

  10. tlitb1 says:

    Hi Geoff It seems you succeeded in approving it I see it now. Cheers

  11. Barry Woods says:

    looks like it is now published, with a few problems shall we say..

    ie https://twitter.com/rubiginosa/status/313948232264863744
    this bit false:

    “LOG12 only received public attention in late August 2012.” – Lewandowskyc

    HOW did Lewandowsky miss, the fact that Adam Corner wrote an article in the
    Guardian, ( with well over a thousand comments)
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/jul/27/climate-sceptics-conspiracy-theorists

    and the damming criticism here:
    http://talkingclimate.org/are-climate-sceptics-more-likely-to-be-conspiracy-theorists/

    especially as Lewandowsky SENT IT TO HIM, did Adam not email back to say look at this?

    “Stephan told me his paper was forth­coming and sent me a copy of it. I wrote about it, unprompted. ” Adam Corner –

    Perhaps an FOI request on Lewandowsky’s university for all emails to the media, and to and from Adam Corner about this…

  12. tlitb1 says:

    I don’t know if you know but this tweet has a link to the final Lew 13 published in all its double columned splendour!

    It does look more impressive now when held at arms length. Just don’t ruin that impression by reading closer. Its virtually the same😉

    Quick scan shows one modification regarding Jeff Condon’s complaint:

    Original:

    “Conspiracist ideation is arguably particularly prominent on climate blogs, such aswhen expressing the belief that temperature records show warming only because of systematic adjustments (e.g., Condon, 2009),”

    Changed to:

    “Conspiracist ideation is arguably also exhibited on climate blogs, for example when expressing the belief that climate scientists “colluded with government officials to ignore the law “(Condon, 2009),”

    As I said before looking at their changes in these papers are revealing of the authors desires – more informative than the up-front pseudo science claims.

    Lew just could’t back down so had to dig out a replacement quote to keep his cognition from harm. However this new reference IMHO weakens their case since Jeff was referring to actual statements from Phil Jones in CG1, where Jones says he had persuaded the compliance officer to see things his way and ignore McIntyres FOI. Taking this with a later admission from the ICO that the 6 months statute of limitations period was the only thing that helped CRU escaped legal scrutiny makes the new statement seem more a matter of fact.

  13. Thanks Leopard and Barry
    I’ve posted a reply at “Frontiers”. I checked it with the original as far as hypothesis 4 and then got bored. I only found one minor word change, apart from the Condon reference. I checked their quote from my comment at Shapingtommorrowsworld and found that they’ve actually demoderated it, putting back the parts they’d already censored, including Cook saying how Lew likes “poking the ants nest”!
    I really don’t understand how they can get away with this. Click on any of their links to blog threads, and you find a whole chain of well argued criticisms from Barry, me, Foxgooses, Brandon, A.Scott and others. They must be sure, either that nobody will bother, or that their readers are as fervently “on side” as the first commenters on the Frontiers blog.

  14. Pingback: Lew’s Crew: The Plot Sickens | Geoffchambers's Blog

  15. Climate Daily says:

    Reblogged this on Climate Daily.

  16. Pingback: Why publishers should explain why papers disappear: The complicated Lewandowsky study saga | Retraction Watch

  17. Pingback: Second Lewandowsky conspiracy theory paper withdrawn | Watts Up With That?

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