Lewandowsky: My Part in his Downfall

Steve McIntyre has had a look at the complex dance of the emails between the University of Western Australia and the publishers of his “Recursive Fury” paper “Frontiers in Psychological Science” at


Now he’s examined the investigation by UWA into the ethics of the Moon Hoax paper


and has discovered that the key conclusion was written by Lewandowsky himself. Steve ends his article with a tantalising: “Today’s note pertains only to the ethics approval of Hoax. The circumstances surrounding the ethics application for Fury are much worse and will be discussed separately”.

There’s also an excellent article on other aspeccts of Lewandowsky’s psychology by Hilary Ostrov at


In a normal world Lewandowsky’s career would now be over. But in a normal world his career would never have begun. He wouldn’t be a professor. He wouldn’t have been enticed to Bristol, one of the world’s top thirty universities, with a five figure sum and a gold medal from the Royal Society. He wouldn’t see his work praised in the Guardian, the Telegraph, the New York Times and the New Yorker, and his conclusion that climate sceptics are conspiracy theorists wouldn’t be cited by government ministers. He just wouldn’t matter.

It seems clear that, in addition to the matter of ethical clearance, and the supposed investigation by UWA, the complaints made to Psychological Science (publishers of “Moon Hoax”) and to Frontiers in Psychological Science (publishers of “Recursive Fury”) were almost certainly never examined. In both cases the publishers justified the delay in reporting on these complaints on the need to consult Lewandowsky and his fellow authors. What was the nature of this “consultation”?

Publishers are private companies and aren’t subject to Freedom of Information requests. TerryS in a comment at the first Climate Audit article linked above makes the excellent suggestion of seeing whether the can be forced to divulge information under Data Protection Acts. This would certainly seem to be a possibility for “Recursive Fury” where four of us are named in the paper, and dozens more in the supplemental material. I’ve hooked out the Swiss data protection act here http://www.dataprotection.eu/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.CH

and will get round to poring through it some time soon.

In the meantime, I reproduce my correspondence with “Frontiers” below, so that others can consult it. (I’ve corrected some spelling mistakes and one incorrect URL). If any other complainants to either publishers would like to do the same, it might be handy. I can reproduce it here or link to it.


23/03/13 From: g.chambers To: info@frontiersin.org

I have tried unsuccessfully to post this comment at http://www.frontiersin.org/Personality_Science_and_Individual_Differences/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073/abstract

To the editors, Frontiers in Personality Science:

In table 3 of this paper, I am mentioned by name and identified as having been the first to have mentioned in public Recursive Conspiracist Hypothesis number 4 – namely that Sceptic blogs were only contacted after a delay. This hypothesis is quite true, as Professor Lewandowsky has admitted. Nonetheless, the fact of having been the first to make this accusation leads to me being accused of exhibiting the following symptoms of conspiracist ideation: nefarious intent, nihilistic skepticism,  “must be wrong”; “no accident”>, and unreflexive counterfactual thinking.

From the definitions of these criteria given in the paper I extract the following:

Nefarious Intent: “… A corollary of the first criterion is the pervasive self-perception and self-presentation among conspiracy theorists as the victims of organized persecution. The theorist typically considers herself, at least tacitly, to be the brave antagonist of the nefarious intentions of the conspiracy; that is, the victim is also a potential hero.”

Nihilistic Skepticism: “The conspiracy theorist refuses to believe anything that does not fit into the conspiracy theory. Thus, nothing is at it seems, and all evidence points to hidden agendas or some other meaning that only the conspiracy theorist is aware of.”

Must be Wrong”“The underlying lack of trust and exaggerated suspicion contribute to a cognitive pattern whereby specific hypotheses may be abandoned when they become unsustainable, but those corrections do not impinge on the overall abstraction that `something must be wrong’ and the `official’ account must be based on deception.”

No Accident”: “To the conspiracy theorist, nothing happens by accident … Thus, small random events are woven into a conspiracy narrative and reinterpreted as indisputable evidence for the theory.”

Unreflexive Counterfactual Thinking: “Contrary evidence is often interpreted as evidence for a conspiracy […] the stronger the evidence against a conspiracy, the more the conspirators must want people to believe their version of events.”

These definitions clearly identify me as being irrational and paranoid, and are therefore defamatory. I therefore request you to withdraw this paper. 

I note further that , in the section on hypothesis (4) (“Skeptic” blogs contacted after delay) in which I am named, only one piece of evidence is produced, and that is a quote from Lucia Liljegren. If you don’t withdraw the paper, you might at least correct it and replace my name with that of Dr Liljegren.

However, that won’t absolve the authors of having defamed me. If we turn to hypothesis (3) “Presentation of intermediate data”, we see that the person accused of having been the first to pronounce it is Steve McIntyre. Despite the fact that this hypothesis also turned out to be true, it leads him to being accused of exhibiting the same irrational and paranoid tendencies as me, (except for “No Accident”).

The link provided 


leads to a comment by Dr McIntyre (comment 8) on an article by Professor Lewandowsky. However, Dr McIntyre’s comment is not about the presentation of intermediate data, but about four entirely different subjects. The reference to the presentation of intermediate data is in two previous comments by me to the same article (comments 3 and 6). In Comment 5, a commenter notes that I had already made the same point in a comment at SkepticalScience, a blog run by second author John Cook, which for some reason was not included among the blogs analysed, despite being one of the “Principal web sites involved in blogosphere’s response to the publication of LOG12” (title of table 2).

One reason for not considering SkepticalScience, despite the fact that this blog is widely regarded as one of the leading blogs commenting on climate scepticism, can perhaps be found in the paper, where, under the heading of “Potential Limitations”, it is explained why the content analysis of blogs was entrusted to authors Cook and Marriott:

Two of the present authors also contributed to LOG12, and the present analysis may therefore be biased by a potential conflict of interest. This possibility cannot be ruled out […].  [B]ecause data collection (via internet search) was conducted by two authors who were not involved in analysis or report of LOG12, the resulting “raw” data – available in the online supplementary material – cannot reflect a conflict of interest involving the LOG12 authors.”

It might have been wise to indicate that:

1) the two authors whose data collection “cannot reflect a conflict of interest” both run blogs which concentrate on countering the views of sceptics (SkepticalScience and WatchingtheDeniers) 

2) John Cook of Skeptical Science is coauthor with first author Stephan Lewandowsky of “The Debunking Handbook”; and

3)SkepticalScience was the scene of some of the most lively debates about(LOG12) and of at least one of the first occurrences of a conspiracist hypothesis.

 I therefore suggest that, in the interest of accuracy, the authors replace the name of Dr McIntyre with mine, (since I do believe that my comment at Skeptical Science was the first to raise this hypothesis, the truth of which has been confirmed by Professor Lewandowsky) and my name with that of Lucia Liljegren.

I haven’t looked at the attributions of earliest mention to the other hypotheses mentioned in table 3. However, I noticed that a quote attributed to me is false, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are other errors.

Finally,  I would like to point out that by the time Cook and Marriott began their content analysis (August 28), the paper (LOG12) had already been the subject of numerous comments on blogs for at least five weeks, beginning with


19 July 2012 (400+ comments)


29 July 2012 (1300+ comments)


30 July 2012 (70 comments)



30 July 2012


(August 2 2012)

The claim to have identified the earliest occurrences of the conspiracist ideation starting on 28 August is therefore moot. 

I therefore respectfully suggest that the wisest course might be to withdraw this paper.


Dear Mr. Chambers,

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We are taking this email very seriously and will temporarily remove the article while we investigate your claims. Please feel free to forward us any further information that will assist us with our investigation. 


Adriana Timperi Senior Editorial Assistant

On behalf of: Carina Paraíso Journal Manager

Frontiers| Psychology Editorial Office


Dear Ms Timperi

Many thanks for your letter. I’ve just noticed that the article is still up on your site.

With respect to your request for further information:

There has been much criticism of of both this paper (“Recursive Fury”), and of the original paper (LOG12) on the internet. I have started to compile a chronological list of websites discussing the two papers on my blog at


References to the “Recursive Fury” paper begin on 5 February 2013.

 Specific criticisms of the paper are too numerous to mention, and often difficult to enunciate because they demand a familiarity  with the original LOG12 paper, which still hasn’t been published, and in particular with the raw data, which is available here:


 The “Recursive Fury” paper is in two parts. The first part is a review of the literature on “Conpiracist Ideation”. This part has received no attention on the internet, as far as I know. I would just note that it relies heavily on one source: Keeley 1999 “Of Conspiracy Theories”, which is an epistemological study appearing in a philosophical journal. 

It is the second part, involving content analysis of blogs, which provoked criticism on the internet. I wouldn’t expect you to wade through all the articles listed on my blog, but I would recommend at least that you look  at :

1) the criticisms under the abstract on your website by A Scott, who has experience in conducting surveys, and whose original criticisms of LOG12 at SkepticalScience and Shapingtomorrowsworld have largely been censored, I believe. You might like to contact him directly. 

2) the comments under the article at


This article, and most of the comments, appeared fully a month before the beginning or the “real-time” content analysis by Cook and Marriott, and the comments contain many of the substantive criticisms which were later used as evidence of “conspiracist ideation”. Note also that the author of the article, Dr Adam Corner, who is also a psychology researcher interested in climate scepticism, engages in constructive dialogue in the comments with us “sceptics”. 

 Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any specific questions. 

Yours Geoff Chambers

Dear Mr. Chambers,

Further to my email regarding your concerns of the Lewandowsky. I would just like to reassure you that we are still investigating into the matter and would like to know whether it would be okay for you if we forwarded along your concerns to the authors? Thank you for letting us know. 


Adriana Timperi Senior Editorial Assistant

On behalf of: Carina Paraíso Journal Manager

Frontiers| Psychology Editorial Office


Certainly you may forward it

grazie mille Geoff Chambers


Dear Mr. Chambers,

Thank you for your various emails on this subject.  You have made a general allegation of defamation; to allow Frontiers to investigate any claim of defamation we need to have specific references to quotes from the article, together with specific explanations of why you consider it or them to be defamatory.  Such latter explanations should include, where relevant, references to any other materials which support your allegation.

You will understand that Frontiers is neutral in this matter and simply wishes to establish the facts.  We need to handle this matter swiftly and must therefore request that your detailed response, in a form to be forwarded to the authors, reach me by Friday 5th April at 1400 CET.  If we have not received your materials by that time (which represents approximately three days since our original request) we will in principle have to proceed on the basis that you do not intend to proceed with your allegations.  

Please let me know if you have any further queries.

Many thanks and best regards

Adriana Timperi Senior Editorial Assistant

On behalf of: Carina Paraíso Journal Manager


Dear Ms Timperi

I enclose a final complaint, just in time, I hope. Have a good weekend.

Yours  Geoff Chambers

Recursive Fury Supplementary Complaint, concerning the criteria for inclusion of  blog material.

I enclose two paragraphs from the explanation of the content analysis carried out by Cook and Marriott, in the 3recursive Fury” paper, with my comments in italics. (Bold mine).

The second phase of the search traced the response to LOG12 in the blogosphere. An on-going web search in real time was conducted by two of the authors (J.C. and M.H.M.) during the period August-October 2012. 

In fact the research began on the 29th of August, thus missing all the unanswered questions and criticisms raised during July and August, (see list of relevant blogs below)

This daily search used Google Alerts to detect newly published material matching the search term “Stephan Lewandowsky.” 

Anthony Watts at Wattsupwiththat and Tom Curtis at SkepticalScience misspelt his name “Lewandowski”. Not everyone uses first name and surname. Bloggers frequently used the nickname  “Lew”, particularly in referring to his “Lew paper”. The search term was clearly inadequate for picking up relevant material.

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.

How can the research be considered “exhaustive”, when no references earlier than 29th August are recorded in the supplementary material?

 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. Alexa is a private company, owend by Amazon, that collects data on web browsing behavior and publishes web traffic reports for the higher trafficked sites. This enables comparison of the relative traffic of websites covering similar topics.

What was the point of a “search encompassed the entire (English-speaking) web”, if it was thereafter arbitrarily limited to 30 sites chosen for their popularity? Much of the spadework of criticising this paper was carried out by relatively obscure sites. That’s how the blogosphere works. Notrickszone is an English speaking site based in Germany which publicised and linked to the paper 29th July. On the same day the Guardian newspaper published an article by Dr Adam Corner, a psychology researcher favourable to Lewandowsky’s work, which attracted 1354 comments in three days. This article was reprinted at Dr Corner’s government sponsored site Talkingclimate on 2nd August, and the 42 comments contain already a large part of the “conspiracist “ criticisms of which Cook and Marriott claim to have  discovered in their internet search starting 29th of August. The first attempt at analysing the results, obtained by one Katabasis, was reported by Manicbeancounter on the 30th July.

Immediately following the discussion of the criteria for inclusion of data, commented above, we read this:

We derived six criteria from the existing literature to permit classification of hypotheses pertaining to LOG12 as potentially conspiracist (see Table 3). Our criteria were exclusively psychological and hence did not hinge on the validity of the various hypotheses. This approach follows philosophical precedents that have examined the epistemology of conspiratorial theorizing irrespective of its truth value (e.g., Keeley, 1999; Sunstein & Vermeule, 2009). The approach also avoids the need to discuss or rebut the substance of any of the hypotheses.”

The majority of the hypotheses discussed were true, or probably true, or (in the case of the question of whether certain bloggers had been blocked from Lewandowsky’s and Cook’s sites, which was aired for an hour or two) at least likely. By defining their criteria as “exclusively psychological” and by “follow[ing] philosophical precedents that have examined the epistemology of conspiratorial theorizing irrespective of its truth value”, the authors manage to define perfectly legitimate requests for information and perfectly valid criticism as conspiracist ideation. 

For the love of science, withdraw this article.

list of blog articles referred to above, appearing before the content analysis:








Dear Mr. Chambers,

Thank you again for your email and having consented forwarding of your message to Prof. Lewandowsky. I would like to confirm that your complaint has been sent to Prof. Lewandowsky, who has agreed to treat complaints forwarded to him confidentially and not to publish them or comment on them publicly.  He has agreed to this but has pointed out that they may become public through other channels such as FOI requests or through the university’s complaints procedure.

 Please allow some time for this investigation to be carried out. Thank you for your understanding. 

 Best Regards,

 Adriana Timperi Senior Editorial Assistant

On behalf of: Carina Paraíso Journal Manager


This entry was posted in Stephan Lewandowsky, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Lewandowsky: My Part in his Downfall

  1. Foxgoose says:

    I think you might be being a touch pessimistic about Lew’s invulnerability Geoff.

    I have a feeling a line may have been crossed with the ethics enquiry revelations.

    The emperor can get away with no clothes if he’s a bit discreet – but when he starts rubbing his privates in the faces of the crowd they get a bit restive.

    It only needs one MSM journalist to take an interest and things could get interesting.

    Calling David Rose ………

  2. Foxgoose says:

    ….. incidentally did you see that the Andthentheresphysics crowd got completely taken in by the Golgafrincham spoof?

    Anders kept on doggedly insisting it was for real – even while his followers got wise and started desperately sending him warning signals.


  3. Geoff, thanks for the link (and your kind “assessment” of my post!)

    From your post above, I found the following somewhat interesting:

    I would like to confirm that your complaint has been sent to Prof. Lewandowsky, who has agreed to treat complaints forwarded to him confidentially and not to publish them or comment on them publicly. He has agreed to this but has pointed out that they may become public through other channels such as FOI requests or through the university’s complaints procedure […]

    Not sure whether it’s Lew or the Frontiers lady (or perhaps both) who’ve never heard of handy-dandy redaction that can – and has been exercised – in case of FOI! However, that aside … (Pure unadulterated speculation alert) ..

    I wonder if this was the “source” of the smoggies’ alleged “gag order”. Also interesting is a comment from an alarmist site that “sue” found and posted over at CA. It was far less terse than that received by Steve:

    “I received a not answer from the journal in regards to my message asking about the paper:

    Thank you for your message. Our decision on the retraction of this article was taken on the basis of a number of factors. This decision had nothing to do with caving in to pressure and was driven by our own analysis of various factors and advice received. Frontiers is not engaged in the climate science debate but is clearly engaged in favor of solid science, and that it is of regret that the weight of the different factors involved led us to the conclusion that we had to retract the article.

    Frontiers cannot comment further on this decision and we appreciate your understanding.


    Again, pure unadulterated speculation on my part [I think that's still allowed, isn't it?!] … Perhaps they've negotiated a MAG (Mutually Assured Gag)😉 But before it came into full effect, Lew and crew had to get all their ducks in a row [Son of Hoax published (Received: January 28, 2013; Accepted: August 18, 2013; Published: October 2, 2013), FOI dossier for smoggies, Lew's video – and of course the seeds of the new meme that they were scattering hither and yon in November! There will be questions, how shall we answer them? All that good stuff …Not to mention his more recent rfs … rf2 is now up, btw!]

    P.S. Whatever happened to your formatting in this post?! Are you using WP's "visual" (as opposed to "text") interface? If so, depending on where you're grabbing the text from, you may need to clear the formatting 'cuz some stuff drags in hidden code. In the meantime, I've taken the liberty of grabbing the text in your post, cleaning it up via my theme, then pasting it into a test blog using your twenty ten theme. And the view from here, so to speak, is that it's fine! If you'd like me to send it to you, just drop me an E-mail and I'll send it post haste🙂

  4. On March 26, I had speculated:

    Perhaps they’ve negotiated a MAG (Mutually Assured Gag)

    As Shub has noted in his post, Lew has now posted his:


    Yet another of his “revisionist” (and unverifiable) narratives in which he sums up his cheesey whine of the day thusly:

    Third, perhaps the journal only thought of this new angle now and in its haste did not consider that it violates their contractually-agreed position.

    Looks like my speculation might not have been too far off the mark. But I don’t doubt for a moment that Lewandowsky and Mann would have been quite displeased with the fact that Frontiers latest Statement has blown their carefully seeded “bullying and intimidation of publishers” meme right out of the water!

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