Excuse me, Where’s the Lew?

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

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/absolutely-maybe/2013/10/14/motivated-reasoning-fuel-for-controversies-conspiracy-theories-and-science-denialism-alike/

the Conversation

https://theconversation.com/right-left-wrong-people-reject-science-because-18789

Frontiers in Psychology  (who published Leandowsky’s second “removed” paper)

http://www.frontiersin.org/Personality_Science_and_Individual_Differences/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073/abstract

and at Lewandowsky’s own post on his old University’s blog at

http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/lewandowskyFAQPLoS1.html

while at  Huffington Post I get almost the last word

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/art-markman-phd/who-rejects-evidence-of-g_b_3325782.html

[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]

This entry was posted in Phantom Bodies & Zombie Blogs, Stephan Lewandowsky and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Excuse me, Where’s the Lew?

  1. Geoff, speaking of Alice Bell …

    During the course of my Bora! Bora! Bora! meanderings, I stumbled across a post of Alice’s with which – believe it or not – at first glance I could almost agree, e.g. her:

    Science itself was somewhat co-opted into a bit of political campaigning on climate change here. Because unlike the PR staff supporting the President of the United States, science rarely speaks in one voice. It’s naïve, if not disingenuous, to suggest it might.

    We get nodes of agreement which will sometimes coalesce into ideas we’ve decided it is either silly or dangerous to bother to argue against. But few scientists are arrogant enough to really think they unquestionably know. There’s always disagreement and uncertainty; that’s the lifeblood of good science. This can make scientists frustrating to work with for politicians, journalists or anyone else who wants a ‘straight’ answer. But science doesn’t tend to deal in truths, but rather hypothesis which aim ever closer to a description of reality.

    I suppose this could have been “confirmation bias” on my part. And if I look at the totality of her essay, on second glance, I’d have to say that my agreement is, well, not so much!

    Anyway, this suggests to me that perhaps (with some notable exceptions,e.g. her gratuitous and unfortunate link to Oreskes’ Merchants of Doubt towards the end of her post) the noble efforts of yourself and others to expand Alice’s horizons may not have been completely in vain.

    Where there’s life, there’s hope … maybe;-)

    But all of the above aside, I do feel your “pain” (for want of a better word) at so frequently having the last word, so to speak. I’ve often noticed the same with my own comments on “friendly” blogs and I’ve sometimes wondered why. Is it because I arrived so late to the party that no one noticed or ??? Who knows, eh?! I suspect (although I have no empirical evidence to … uh … sustain this suspicion) that it just may be one of those mysteries of virtual life!

  2. While I was writing this Foxgoose was proving me wrong by replying to me at the Conversation. Do join in. It doesn’t have to be about boring old Lew.

  3. Hilary
    Yes, I’m sure coming late to the party has something to do with it. If you take the time to read the article and follow up links you find everyone else has commented and moved on.
    I had a quick look at Alice’s article, but there again, I’ll have to follow up links before commenting there. Alice studied and teaches history of science, and is far more measured in her criticisms of scepticism than most. Like Adam Corner, she’s someone you can engage with. I was rude about her after transcribing her gabbling delivery for Alex’s Mytranscriptbox, which I regret.

  4. It’s all about Lews’s “motivated reasoning” isn’t it?

    Lew was smart enought to figure out that sceptics approach the climate debate with an emotional predisposition to resist being lied to & pushed around.

    Sadly he wasn’t smart enough to realise that the reasoning of the vocally “climate concerned”, like himself ,would be equally “motivated”.

    The weird thing is that political activism of any kind is almost the perfect expression of MR. When you decide to fight for “a cause” you check your objectivity in at the door.

    That’s why the consensus crowd can’t respond to the clear evidence we have but before them that their guru is a liar and a fraud. You can bet your life that the more intelligent among them have followed the links and checked out the facts – but their emotional investment in their position makes it impossible to put finger to keyboard and admit there’s a case to be argued.

  5. Jeremy Harvey says:

    Geoff, Hilda seems to have disappeared your comments at Scientific American… I seem to recall that they have a somewhat Orwellian blog comments system there where the person who posted banned comments can still see them – but others can’t. When I go to that page, there are 52 comments, the last of which is by Hilda herself, at 5:04 pm on 10/17/2013.

  6. Jeremy Harvey
    Thanks for the tip off. You’re right. Your 52nd comment by Hilda is my 54th, and it’s followed by my second comment. (I can see my first comment twice at 43 and 44). So in theory everyone might have their own thread, at the whim of the moderator, with no way of knowing what was on other people’s threads. As you say, it’s Orwellian, but in a nice way I suppose, in that no-one gets their face bitten off.

    Whoops. I just posted this in error at Hilda’s. I won’t be popular there.

  7. Jeremy Harvey says:

    Its an odd way of hiding disfavored comments. Presumably if you open the page without your standard cookies (eg with another browser) you can see you’ve been spiked. I saw this technique referred to by Lucia in the context of the Bora thing. Anyway, thanks for replying, it meant I didn’t close the thread (happens to me all the time; a combination of being slow to comment and boring🙂 ). Ok but this comment may be the last one…

  8. Hilda Bastian says:

    Hi – I’m the offending blogger! I should have emailed, or posted on the site. I’m sorry – I haven’t read through it all yet, but I will. You’re not a pariah, but I do reserve the right to publish statements about third parties. I am moderating, but I’m not too extreme about it. I’m just going to be slow about some things. It was a shame, because there were other bits that would have gone straight through, if I didn’t have to fact-check part of it first. Go ahead – make a comment that doesn’t pass judgment on a third person, and you’ll see you’re not a pariah. I’m actually working on a follow-up post about issues around intellectual suppression etc – it’s really not something I want to have done myself.

  9. Hilda
    Many thanks for your prompt reply. My posting on your thread of my reply to Jeremy Harvey above was a genuine error, for which I apologise.
    As you and I can see, (though your readers can’t) I was careful in my first comment to keep my criticisms of Lewandowsky very general. My second comment contains details of a very specific accusation which has been detailed on my blog and by Steve McIntyre at
    http://climateaudit.org/2013/03/28/lewandowsky-doubles-down/
    Steve’s article is important because of his reputation for intellectual rigour and unwillingness to make serious accusations lightly. My blog isn’t really like that.
    Beyond the criticisms of Lewandowsky’s work (and there are many, easily found on the internet) a point I find fascinating is the unwillingness of science / environment journalists to investigate. They are passing up the chance of a scoop, which is inexplicable by all normal journalistic standards. To my knowledge, only Slate and Retraction Watch have made mild criticims of his two papers on climate sceptics; “Moon Hoax” and “Recursive Fury”.

  10. Hilda Bastian says:

    Well, the papers of his I’ve looked at have been excellent. I shall read what you’ve sent, though.

  11. j ferguson says:

    Hilda,
    Which papers?

  12. Brad Keyes says:

    “They are passing up the chance of a scoop, which is inexplicable by all normal journalistic standards.”

    Yes, this bit is amazing. Is the religious imperative really sufficient to extinguish career ambition in every available science journalist? Well, I guess I just located the explanation, didn’t I? Presumably mainstream science journalists have calculated that busting Lewandowsky wouldn’t be a wise career move. So the religious imperative and the career imperative are presumably not in opposition after all. Better hypotheses, anyone?

  13. j ferguson says:

    Well gosh, Hilda, you made the claim HERE that the papers you looked at were excellent. Being ever openminded and thinking it possible, I asked (HERE) which papers you had in mind.

    Is this really too hard? I suspect we all would be delighted if it turned out that Lew could turn out an “excellent” (your word) paper.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hi – sorry, had an excessive amount on my plate. I meant the 2 that I “cited” in the post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s