I’ve become a pariah, a leper, a sufferer from body odour, halitosis and the plague. And all I’ve done is go on blog threads and make comments.
I used to do this at the Guardian and get banned. Now I’m doing it elsewhere and my comments stay up. What’s really weird is how they usually manage to bring the thread to a grinding halt. Call me Atropos (look it up).
It’s all about Lewandowsky. Whenever I see an article quoting his research into conspiratorial climate sceptics I comment, pointing out that his two key papers contain falsehoods. Sometimes I try to remain within the bounds of decency and the libel laws, and sometimes I don’t. I try to gear my response to the blog. Almost always it works and my comment stays up.
And almost always my comment is the last one.
No-one goes there any more, as if my reasoned (and, it has to be said, extremely boring) exposition of Lewandowsky’s fraudulent research has stunned other commenters into a cataleptic silence.
It’s happened at Scientific American
Frontiers in Psychology (who published Leandowsky’s second “removed” paper)
and at Lewandowsky’s own post on his old University’s blog at
while at Huffington Post I get almost the last word
[It helps not to be alone. Barry Woods, who was the first to question Lewandowsky about the missing link to his survey at SkepticalScience, and who was thus the first to reveal the lie at the heart of his research, has been a constant and always polite commentator on most of the articles mentioned above. I’ve never met Barry. I had one long telephone conversation with him and a number of e-mail exchanges. We had a disagreement about tactics when it came to challenging climate activists which became public at BishopHill, and which resulted in a lot of criticism of myself by BH regulars.
I mention that here to put on record the kind of unco-ordinated and sometimes strained relations that exist between us “sceptic activists”. And I do it for this reason: if ever we score a direct hit and become a threat to the consensus, you can be sure that someone somewhere (probably at Guardian Environment) will have a Eureka moment and reveal our secret conspiracy hidden on a thousand BishopHill threads and elsewhere to take over the universe. And they’ll do it in a peer-reviewed article. So this paragraph is just a little spoiler to anticipate their scoop].
Hilda Bastian, who blogs at Scientific American, replies at length to almost all her commenters. Like me, and like Associate Professor John Cook of SkepticalScience, she’s a cartoonist / illustrator who believes in the power of humour. Like most warmists, she believes in dialogue with like-minded folk and in the power of silence when faced with reasoned disagreement. (Unlike Alice Bell of New Left Review , she hasn’t banned me or accused me of racism or sexism. She prefers to ignore my existence). That’s her right as a citizen. As a blogger on a magazine supposedly devoted to the pursuit of scientific truth, that puts her in a quandary. She’s written an article based on the work of a scientist who is a proven liar, a fraud and a charlatan. (He’s also a professor at a reputable British university in receipt of a medal from the Royal Society, but that’s not the issue here).
Most of the comments on her blog are critical of Hilda’s uncritical acceptance of the “science” she’s commenting on. For instance, this from jayjacobus:
“Tell the truth. Have you seen the first hand reports and validated the methodologies or are you simply following the crowd? Psychological analyses apply to both sides of a dispute. But, in the end, they are simply an (unscientific) way of casting doubt on the opposition.”
to which Hilda replied:
“Jayjacobus: no, I didn’t go as far as checking the first hand reports, or validating the methodologies. But I did critically appraise the methodology before I chose to regard it as reliable and discuss the paper, and I did a brief search for other similar studies or a review of studies like it. (I didn’t find any, but I didn’t search extensively.)…”
And so the conversation continues for 42 comments, until mine (the 43rd, and also the 44th for some reason) and even after, with Hilda replying 5 times more until my second intervention at comment 55, where I “explain why Professor Lewandowsky should not be cited as an authority on conspiracy theories and science denialism”.
And suddenly Hilda’s comments dry up. Apparently, it’s ok to raise general questions about scientific method, but point out that a specific scientist – one lauded, rewarded and cited by just about everyone from Mother Jones right down to the British Minister for the Environment and the Royal Society – is a liar and a fraud, and comments suddenly cease. Hilda the humorous voice of science at the world’s most popular scientific magazine is suddenly silent.
It’s not only her. I’ve made the same point at Chris Mooney’s, the New Yorker, Mother Jones, the Slate, Redaction Watch, and no doubt other blogs which I’ve forgotten. Any journalist in search of a scoop could find my comments and confirm them. “Scientist fakes results” is the surest way to fame and fortune in science journalism. No-one is interested.
Something is dead in our democracy. Should we care?
[Declaration of interest: The Psychology Department of Bristol University, where Lewandowsky is currently employed, once turned down my entry application (or imposed impossibly high A-level requirements, I can’t remember which). Since I’d already been accepted by the psychology department at UCL with two Es (the minimum entry requirement for total duds), I stopped working and sailed into university without the advanced maths which would have enabled me to follow much of the current scientific debate nearly fifty years on. Thus is the course of (my personal) history influenced by trivial events. I lost out on the advanced statistics, but I caught up on Herodotus and Gibbon]