Lew’s Cannons

I’ve been meaning to write up the developments in the Lewandowsky saga, but I’ve been so busy discussing it, e.g. at

http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/rfSpeech.html#comments

and at

http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2014/4/9/ethical-confirmations.html

that I haven’t had time. Briefly, for anyone who hasn’t been following the story at the above sites, plus ClimateAudit, (where Steve McIntyre has made startling discoveries about the ethics applications for Lew’s two papers) See e.g.

http://climateaudit.org/2014/04/07/the-ethics-application-for-lewandowskys-fury/

Wattsupwiththat e.g. at

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/04/04/journal-takes-lewandowsky-and-his-supporters-to-task-over-threats-over-retracted-recursive-fury-paper/

and JoNova’s; e.g. at:

http://joannenova.com.au/2014/04/journal-admits-lewandowsky-paper-retracted-because-it-failed-twice/

here’s a resumé of the story so far:

– Lewandowsky’s “Recursive Fury” paper has been withdrawn by the journal Frontiers in Psychological Science

– The news was announced in a scoop by Readfearn at DeSmogBlog, who also had a previously unknown bunch of FOI material from UWA

– Readfearn spoke of “threats” to the publishers, mentioning McIntyre, and linking to my blog. This link was picked up by a number of articles, including ones by Nuccitelli at the Guardian (which spoke of “bullying”)

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2014/mar/21/contrarians-bully-climate-change-journal-retraction

and by “Recursive Fury” peer reviewer Elaine McKewon at

http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2014/04/reviewer-journal-wilts-under-climate-of-intimidation/

and at

https://theconversation.com/the-journal-that-gave-in-to-climate-deniers-intimidation-25085

– I complained to the Guardian and socialsciencespace pointing out that Readfearn’s comment was defamatory (comments were closed at the Conversation) and the link to DeSmogBlog was broken at both sites. The editor from socialsciencespace sent me a polite and conciliatory letter. The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor has neither corrected their false and defamatory article, nor acknowledged receipt of my complaint.

– Frontiers issued a number of contradictory statements, but the latest, at

http://www.frontiersin.org/blog/Retraction_of_Recursive_Fury_A_Statement/812

makes it clear that there were no threats, and no intimidation.

– Lewandowsky has five articles on the subject so far, the latest of which is at

http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/rfSpeech.html#comments

One of his lines of defence is that “Fury” is the most popular paper ever at “Frontiers”. He’s also boasting about how the paper is being hosted by the University of Western Australia now, and quoting the UWA’s legal person as saying “Bring it on, dogshit deniers, we’re insured!” (or words to that effect).

– Foxgoose, who was one of two plaignants (the other was Jeff Condon) to get changes to Recursive Fury before its brief existence as a peer reviewed paper at “Frontiers in Psychological Science” is currently arguing at Bishop Hill aænd at Shapingtomorrowsworld for a class action for libel against Lewandowsky and/or the University of Western Australia.

– two editors have resigned from “Frontiers” in support of Lewandowsky. This is less of a story than it may seem, since apparently, according to a commenter somewhere (where?) everyone and their kangaroo can be an editor at Frontiers.

However, just for fun, and to give an idea of the intellectual level of the opposition, I reproduce in full from

http://bjoern.brembs.net/2014/04/resigning-from-frontiers/

the post of one of the resigning editors:

__________________________________________

Recursive Fury: Resigning From Frontiers

In: News • Tags: contrarians, delusionals, unpersuadables

Last month, I was alerted to an outrageous act of a scientific journal caving in to pressure from delusionals demanding the science about their publicly displayed delusions be hidden from the world: the NPG-owned publisher Frontiers retracted a scientific article, with which they could not find anything wrong: The article attracted a number of complaints which were investigated by the publisher. This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article.

Essentially, this puts large sections of science at risk. Clearly, every geocentrist, flat earther, anti-vaxxer, creationist, homeopath, astrologer, diviner, and any other unpersuadable can now feel encouraged to challenge scientific papers in a court. No, actually, they don’t even have to do that, they only have to threaten court action and publishers will cave in and retract your paper.

As if we needed any more evidence that publishers are bad for science.

Now even the supposedly “good guys” show that the are not really on the side of science. Instead of at least waiting for a law suit to be filed and perhaps at least attempting to stand their ground (as Simon Singh did), they just took the article down in what can only be called anticipatory obedience. This is no way to serve science.

A week or two ago, I talked with a Frontiers representative on the phone and she explained a few things to me which prompted me to read the paper in question, so I could make up my own mind. After reading the paper, any of the attempted explanations on the phone rang hollow: I’m certainly not a lawyer, but if taking publicly posted comments and citing them in a scientific paper, discussing them under a given hypothesis which has a scientific track record and plenty of precedence constitutes a cause for libel or defamation lawsuits, it is certainly the law and not the paper which is at fault. It is quite clear, why the content of the paper may feel painful to those cited in it, but as long as “conspirational ideation” is not an official mental disorder, I cannot see any defamation. If you don’t want to be labeled a conspiracy theorist, don’t behave like one publicly on the internet. Therefore, after reading the paper, in my opinion, Frontiers ought to have supported their authors just as their home institution (UWA) is supporting them as their employees.

As the Frontiers representative did not disclose any details and what she was able to disclose was both very general, hence not very convincing, and I promised not to disclose even that, one can only speculate what the motivations and considerat1ions might have been at Frontiers as to why they decided to throw their authors under the bus.

Clearly, if legal problems are cited, it’s always money that’s at stake, I’d be surprised if this were controversial. I have heard through the grapevine that Frontiers apparently may have felt some pressure recently, to make more money, to publish more papers. I was told that they have sent out literally millions of spam emails to addresses harvested from, e.g. PubMed, soliciting manuscript submissions. Obviously, a costly libel or defamation suit in the UK would not have been a positive on the balance sheets.

Alas, as much fun all of this speculation may be, it is not really relevant to my conclusion: Frontiers retracted a perfectly fine (according to their own investigation) psychology paper due to financial risks for themselves. It can only be seen as at best a rather lame excuse or at worst rather patronizing, if Frontiers were to claim to be protecting their authors from lawsuits by removing the ‘offending’ article. This is absolutely no way to “empower researchers in their daily work“. In the coming days I will send resignation letters to the Frontiers journals to which I have donated my free time for a range of editorial duties. Obviously, I will complete the tasks I have already started, but I will not accept any new tasks at Frontiers – at least not until they show more support of their authors.

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4 Responses to Lew’s Cannons

  1. manicbeancounter says:

    Geoff,
    What is still left intact is the notion of “conspiracist ideation.” That is, the plausible hypothesis that people who believe in “crazy” conspiracy theories have a tendency to reject well-supported science. The problem with the “moon hoax” paper was the small number of believers in conspiracies. At the most extreme, there only 10 (out of 1145) believers in the Moon Hoax conspiracy (CYMoon).
    Following a prompting from Barry Woods, I have looked at the follow-up US study.

    http://manicbeancounter.com/2014/04/10/conspiracist-ideation-falsified/

    Summary
    A recent paper, based on an internet survey of American people, claimed that “conspiracist ideation, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested”. Analysis of the data reveals something quite different. Strong opinions with regard to conspiracy theories, whether for or against, suggest strong support for strongly-supported scientific hypotheses, and strong, but divided, opinions on climate science.

    My results are tentative, and need submitting to a battery of statistical tests. However, there were a lot more believers in conspiracy theories than in “moon hoax”, so it is not so susceptible to scam responses.

  2. Manicbeancounter:
    Sorry, I meant to reply earlier. This kind of analysis is precisely what is needed to counter Lewandowsky’s nonsense. There’s a scheme afoot to centralise opposition to this plague. Since I wrote the above, Lewandowsky’s message has been spread by McKewon ands others to Salon, Huffington Post and who knows where. I’ll keep you informed of developments.

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