Shub Niggurath Climate: a request to readers

Dear readers,

As anyone writing a blog with even semi-serious intent can tell you, it takes commitment and resources. My blogging activity has tended to be focused on a single line of investigation at a time. Time is the biggest constraint – it puts boundaries on everything a writer can do.

Over time I have realized time is sucked up not in reading and analyzing research material, but in chasing down references and laying hands on them.

Two such episodes prompted me to take the plunge. I ask the kind reader to reader to pitch in. Any contribution would go a long way in helping obtain books and references. This would bring ideas to paper faster and fresher. That is the goal!

Please consider clicking on the button below to make donations. The account accepts credit cards. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Fury Recursive: the curtain refuses to fall

(c) Gary Killon Photography

The Recursive Fury story has undergone a sea change. In one quick motion, senior Frontiers editors turned the carefully stage-managed Lewandowsky narrative upside down. Rarely does a succinct statement as this get so many key elements of a complex dispute, right on the mark.

Suddenly, the numerous Fury-friendly articles in Lewandowsky’s favourite media outlets and blogs are tottering (for e.g., here, here, here). Ironically, it was perhaps these very news items that precipitated the journal’s statement.

The Lewandowsky narrative, as evidenced by the running Hiroshima clock in his talk video, took its time coming. Carefully timed articles in the Guardian and Desmogblog made their appearance alongside news of the retraction decrying academic censorship and the squelching of scholarship. The University of Queensland issued a special statement in support of student John Cook.

When was the last time an academic paper’s retraction was accompanied by a carnival parade with the authors on floats covered in robes of martyrdom waving to the crowds?

But with everything there’s a price. None of the articles on the retraction news contacted a sceptic who submitted complaints to the journal. With no dissenting voices and the unrelenting ‘Crusher Crew’ rhetoric, it fast became clear the journal itself was being scapegoated for the retraction, forcing its hand.

With the statement, Team Lewandowsky is suddenly in a shambles (they do well when they can control everything).  Skepticalscience principals tumbled on to Retraction Watch betraying surprise and dropping dark hints of ominous revelations. Apparently, these could include plans to sue the journal.

With this, Frontiers has been given a good hard look at the nature of the parties they dealt with. Following the implosion, Lewandowsky has released a lengthy, tight-lipped statement. It gives a sense for how Fury was to be stuffed, wings clipped, into a delicate cage and perched atop a legal tinderbox. Only that never happened. Instead they lit the bonfire of publicity at the same spot and blew it all up.

Frontiers and Lewandowsky: the scab-picking begins anew

Stephan Lewandowsky has climbed back into the news again. Though they pretended otherwise, the retraction of Recursive Fury is a major fiasco for climate alarmists. Retraction of a paper is no small matter. Many egos have been bruised: Lewandowsky, the university, their lawyer and the paper’s reviewers. They refuse to go quietly into the night.

Starting anew with the paper’s reviewer for Frontiers in Psychology Elaine McKewon, a rash of articles have popped up at favourable venues (Sydney Morning Herald, Conversation).

McKewon’s story is long, and wrong, but fortunately a few new things emerge. This blogger’s initial impressions are strengthened. It appears the journal did a far better job than what comes across. They verbally discussed matters with the university, the paper’s authors and the reviewers. An ‘agreement’ to modify a couple of sentences appeared to emerge and the authors and reviewer (McKewon) hoped that was it.

McKewon’s judgement of course was clouded. Tweaking a few sentences was not enough for the journal. It would not have been enough: the paper’s basis was ‘narrative analysis’, which is an euphemism for the authors weaving their critics into an elaborate yarn as inmates of a conspiracist madhouse. Each suitable comment was chosen, chopped and bowdlerized to fit a story with real names and Webcitation archives. If you set out to ‘modify’ things to rescue the paper it would wholly come apart.

McKewon misses this point as well: the question was not about making changes acceptable to the journal. It was the journal’s chances in court should legal threat/s materialize. As she points out, UK libel law changed in the interim to favour academic freedom of expression. But yet the journal decided against the paper. Why?

The reasons are not hard to guess: the authors and reviewers’ excuses did not sell. The ethics process appeared weak to non-existent. The risks would have been transferred from the authors to the journal. It bears repeating: the risk of litigation and a successful outcome following litigation are two different things.

The University of Queensland, John Cook’s home, announced in a statement by the acting pro-vice chancellor that “retraction of the paper has arisen solely as a consequence of the journal’s legal considerations”. (emphasis mine). These elaborate resuscitation measures indicate matters reached a head.

Contrary to the spin on how only legal issues remained, Frontiers has given a different answer when pushed.

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

It would be interesting to see if the scab-picking stops here.

AndPhysics frightens himself

Blogger AndPhysics (a.k.a wotty, wotts etc) has frightened himself. We learn he’s done this by not reading the latest scary IPCC report.

I quote:

I haven’t really had a chance to read the newly released WGII Summary for Policy Makers, but I have had a quick glance and have read some related articles.

That’s right. He’s not read the report, he’s not read even a summary of it. Draft versions of both were leaked and have been available for a long time now.

Clearly, this knowledge gap is useful to fortify one’s prior convictions about climate catastrophe. I wonder why no Dan Kahan would research this psychology. Climate alarm resides under the shady branches of huge error bars weathering storms of criticism. Not even reading the reports must confer additional benefit.

Variations on the fright routines are almost endless. One we’ve heard recently from activists are that they are not alarmed. But to their great trepidation, they learned how scientists have been privately peeing in their pants in climate terror. Keyes has the details.

A couple of days back, Andphysics put another interesting form of alarmism on display: argument from fantasy. Briefly, it goes like this: ‘imagine if something bad ‘X’ happened. We could say ‘I told you so’. I quote:

So, if we do have a big El Niño later this year … maybe I (and many others) could say “told you so”.

‘X’ in this case is ‘warmest year ever’. Pretending it is bad is assuredly a lie, instead it provides for newspaper headline opportunities. Hoping for a Super El-Nino has been a staple fantasy of climate alarmists. It allows them to sponge off any warmth occurring from natural variability for CO2, for the cause.

But to say ‘I told you so’, you have to first predict something ‘X’ and ‘X’ has to then happen.

Prediction means sticking your neck out. It means skin in the game. Andphysics’ trick is to hide his non-prediction in the folds of long, flowing blog posts. That doesn’t prevent him from imagining seeing himself having predicted an El-Nino, if it were to happen. Wrap your head around that a bit.

The odds of an El-Nino this year are apparently 0.6, i.e., slightly better than a coin toss.

Richard Betts clears it up with Stephan Lewandowsky

mail rebate conspiracistFrom Hilary comes a remarkable little bit of news. In Lewandowsky’s retracted Recursive Fury, he and his co-authors listed climate scientist Richard Betts as a person with ‘conspiracist ideation’.

It turns out Betts ran into Lewandowsky, physically, at a conference. Why a psychologist and a climate scientist would go to the same gathering is a different matter but the two scientists had a little chat over coffee (about one being called a conspiracist by the other), and lo and behold they “cleared the air’.

The comment that qualified Betts as ‘conspiracist’ in the paper is unequivocal: it meets criteria set out by the authors. I cannot see how the air can be cleared. As far as one can tell, Betts did not stand up for the principle but like the rich and powerful who bought papal indulgences or skip the waiting line at bank counters, he went backstage.

This brings up another point: you can be a conspiracist and still get out of Lewandowsky’s list. Possible if you are well-connected. That or you have coffee with Lewandowsky. I wonder if the people attending his Bristol conference have a little chat and coffee and get their names off his list.

Recursive Fury Gone

Lewandowsky’s ‘Recursive Fury’ – the subject of many posts here – has been retracted by the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The news of the retraction came pre-packaged with spin and bluster – on how only legal issues affected the journal’s decision and how Lewandowsky’s former employer was still hosting the paper’s pdf draft.

But actions speak louder than words. The question in front of the journal was two-fold: (a) the risk of legal action if the paper was published, and (b) its chances in court in the event of litigation. It would be fair to say their answers were: (a) not insignificant, and (b) quite poor.

The journal’s instincts are on display in FOI documents (pdf) from the University of Western Australia. It set up an external team of senior academics to evaluate the paper and complaints. The journal put polite but pointed questions to the UWA office.

In turn, the university extracted compliance to a gag order from the journal:

UWA Ethics report

Frontiers review team signed the above document to obtain a ethics report from University of Western Australia on the retracted Lewandowsky et al 2013 Recursive Fury paper

Why would UWA not want the ethics report not be made public, and want the journal roped in?  This was before the decision to retract was made. With the information available, it is evident the paper underwent no formal ethics review. If true, this would have been immensely damaging to both the paper’s authors and the journal.

Lewandowsky and his co-authors are said to have signed gag orders as well. However, with the release of a 45-min video, and write-ups in the Guardian, Shaping Tomorrow’s World and numerous other venues pushing his narrative, it’s not clear what gagging is taking place at all.

What complainant names is Lewandowsky protecting by not disclosing names? The same people whom he defamed by labeling them conspiracists in his paper?

The so-called gag is of the same kind thrown up as reason for not revealing which skeptical bloggers Lewandowsky sent his Moon Hoax survey to. In both instances, the involved people whose names he refused to utter sprung forward of their accord to identify themselves publicly.

It doesn’t match with the FOI material (pictured above) which shows UWA to have demanded silence from Frontiers academics.

The journal didn’t exactly cover itself in glory either. The numerous switches and changes it made to reviewers reflect the difficulty it had finding someone suitable. The final two reviewers are a revealing pair. Reviewer one - Viren Swami - was in addition special topics editor for the issue the paper appeared in. Reviewer two was a former UWA graduate and current journalism PhD candidate one Elaine McKewon. A committed climate consensus supporter, she is hardly the objective person to be reviewing a paper on the psychologic profiles of allegedly conspiracist mental defectives she does not hesitate labeling ‘deniers’.

Arising from McIntyre’s digging to previously released FOI documents, it appears Lewandowsky himself co-wrote portions of UWA’s ethics report inquiring into his previous ‘Moon Hoax’ paper. You can bet the senior academics on Frontiers’ panel must be wondering about the provenance of material UWA fed them leading them to conclude there were no issues with the ethical aspects of the present paper.

The Michael Mann ‘scientists’ rigor and honesty’ Quote

The doctored quote in Michael Mann’s legal reply brought to attention by Climateaudit is doing its rounds now.

Doctored quotes? Guess where my first reaction was to look.

Sure enough, this is what one finds on Skepticalscience:

In July 2010, the University of East Anglia published the Independent Climate Change Email Review report. They examined the emails to assess whether manipulation or suppression of data occurred and concluded that “The scientists’ rigor and honesty are not in doubt”. (emphasis added)

How oddly coincidental. The exact same wording seen in Michael Mann’s 2013 legal memorandum — “…whether manipulation or suppression of data occurred and concluded that “The scientists’ rigor and honesty are not in doubt”— shows up in John Cook’s 2010 web page, including non-Australian spelling.

A quick Google search turns up several sources which contain the same phrasing but they lead back to Cook’s site. No one else seems to have worded anything Climategate-related quite this way.

Cook if we remember, enthusiastically farmed out the services of his website and followers to Mann upon his request. His behind-the-scenes collaboration with Mann in manufacturing web pages for the express purpose of defending Mann against criticism from Richard Muller is well-documented.

In July 2012 when Mann filed suit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Mark Steyn Skepticalscience was there supporting Mann linking to the same page above.

Here’s a spot the hard-working climate mafia missed

spanda cover

Split the whole into two to engender polarities, spanda endures its course to fulfil its vocation, its call to manifest and to be manifested. Along the same thread, born on a different plane, emerging from the primordial androgynous chasm, each engendered side keeps its heavenly or earthly signature, paralleled – in the twin-fissured dimension – as a pro-tension, a gender advocacy to further differentiate. Having been the first signature gender-wise, the pivotal function of sex is ensuing. The vocatio attracting force generates and emanates form the fulfilled wor[l]d of consciousness, while a counterforce repels it. I am not me, I am you.

“u’r beautiful, show ur light: nûr upon nûr … do u like to play the game of life? ;-)” “beauty is the light that shines forth from within – i like playing my game with life because we are players.” “LOL, Gr8! ttyl.” “ok, i’m offline, bye bye.”

Thus begins the editorial of an academic journal. If you feel queasy about the phone text mysticism, these should be quelled by a professor of psychiatry from the Johns Hopkins University in the next article, expounding on psychedelic experiments with the coming Apocalypse and Mayan astrology:

Continue reading

Getting something for nothing

From the prologue of NN Taleb’s Antifragile:

Which brings us to the largest fragilizer of society, and greatest generator of crises, absense of “skin in the game.” Some become antifragile at the expense of others by getting the upside (or gains) from volatility, variations, and disorder and exposing others to the downside risks of losses or harm

[...]

While in the past people of rank or status were those and only those who took risks, who had the downside for their actions, and heroes were those who did so for the sake of others, today the exact reverse is taking place. We are witnessing a new class of inverse heroes, that is, bureaucrats, banks, Davos-attending members of the IAND (International Association of Name Droppers), and academics with too much power and no real downside and/or accountability. They game the system while citizens pay the price.

Continue reading

Akademik Shokalskiy: the fateful moment

“The smallest mistakes can cascade into a disaster” 
Chris Turney

Akademik Shokalskiy and its passengers

It has been more than a week since the Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck in Antarctic sea ice. Its passengers have now been removed. Events are embedded safely enough in the past. Fortunately, beyond the monopoly of the flowery-but-unilluminating Alok Jha and the disinformation-obsessed BBC and the forced gaiety of the eco-tourists, independent voices are available. One of them is Janet Rice, an Australian Green party Senate candidate.

Continue reading

The Narrative

Booker is in form, as usual, as he talks about Nelson Mandela: media narratives are “fraudulent concoctions of artifice”, and a prime function of journalism, to see through them. The writer Nicholas Taleb has long sections attacking the narrative problem—our ‘crippling dislike for the abstract’ becomes the excuse for journalists to weave narratives and ‘convey the impression of causality’.The story of global warming is inextricably linked to the narrative.

In academic circles, it is openly conceded that global warming is imperceptible and ‘unobtrusive’ at human timescales. It is not ‘visible to the public except through the media’ (e.g., see page 28 here). While with all issues, newspapers educate their audience to some extent, nowhere as in global warming have newsmen so completely embraced the teacher’s role. And yet, as journalist, he or she is supposed to cross-question the same source, check its claims and report on it.

The compromising of the journalist’s position creates a two-fold problem. Firstly, control over ‘the narrative’, a misleading fiction to begin with, is wrested away from the journalist. Preferred, official explanations constantly emerge as sanctioned supporting pillars of the climate meta-narrative. The expectation is that journalists participate in propping them up as stenographers.  The Climategate emails provides numerous examples where activist scientists desired control over every point in the narrative. The IPCC and its modus operandi in the release of reports are a prime example.

Second is the constant assault on global warming journalists’ position by a pernicious ideology masquerading as principle namely, ‘false balance‘. Again, the theory is that false balance journalists fail to educate their audience, a job that is not theirs in the first place. Whatever its rationale for self-justification the solution, false balance avoidance, amounts to scientists telling journalists that only they be allowed as the source and everyone else be excluded.

In global warming, activist scientists seek control of the story, the actors and the narrative. They’ve gotten used to it over the years. This is reflected in Booker’s experience: the ‘ruthless discrediting of critics’, the pushing of a one-sided “narrative”, and the abhorrence of honest dialogue.

Good journalism, like good science, is the antithesis of narrative. Good journalism destroys narratives.

Passive smoking: Letting the guard down

old-fashioned-ad3

From a cigarette advert: Tipalet

What does exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke do? Cause lung cancer. Do you know of any other correct answer? I certainly don’t.

Tipped off by Christopher Snowdon, I read this JCNI news item on an as-yet unpublished study of lung cancer and second-hand smoke exposure. Inside are shocking statements by physicians I never expected to see in a medical journal:

On the certainty of linking second-hand smoke to lung cancer:

“The findings support continued need for investment in smoking prevention and cessation, research on passive smoking, and understanding of lung cancer risk factors other than smoking.” (emphasis mine)

and

“Passive smoking has many downstream health effects … but only borderline increased risk of lung cancer,”

The real reason to avoid passive smoking:

“The strongest reason to avoid passive cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm.

On the amount of risk of lung cancer from second-hand smoke:

“But you can say, with regard to passive smoke, it’s only the heaviest exposure that produces the risk. We kind of knew that before, but it’s a little stronger here.”

and

“We’ve gotten smoking out of bars and restaurants on the basis of the fact that you and I and other nonsmokers don’t want to die,” said [Gerard] Silvestri. “The reality is, we probably won’t.”

We probably won’t die from cancer due to exposure to second-hand smoke? The medical community and the general public already knew this?

There is a continued need to do research on passive smoking? Really? I thought the question of passive smoking and lung cancer was completely ‘settled’. Why waste time and money studying established facts?

We knew the risk of lung cancer and/or death from second hand smoke was low but we still got rid of it from bars and restaurants?

The startling admission in the midst of these questions is this: the reason to avoid second-hand cigarette smoke is not to protect oneself from the smoke, but to make it socially difficult for the smoker to smoke?

I had no idea.

It is illuminating to see how scientists casually and inadvertently admit to weakness in the secondhand tobacco smoke-lung cancer argument, once behind the comfortable safety of accomplished social objectives surrounding tobacco.

Tom Curtis: An open letter

Hello Tom Curtis
You are a Skepticalscience regular. In your post dated September 28, 2013 you laid out independent lines of evidence showing how John Cook, the proprietor of Skepticalscience, did not post a survey from Australian psychology researcher Stephen Lewandowsky on his website.

But the notorious paper Lewandowsky wrote makes this claim. In fact, the paper’s results are critically dependent on the survey being posted there. It says a broad audience saw the survey because it was posted on Skepticalscience.  It analyzes comments from the website to support this.

You know both the above to be false. You have every reason to believe this. You recently re-iterated your belief.

As a climate blogger and commenter, I and others have asked Cook and Lewandowsky on several occasions how their results can be supported if their data was faulty. You rationalized the results referring to survey responses from Junkscience.com. But the paper des not include data from this website (see table below).

log-survey

From LOG12, Supplementary information. The authors claim the survey was posted at Skepticalscience. Junkscience.com is not listed as a source.

Lewandowsky can put the issue to rest by releasing the raw survey data, but has simply refused. Instead, he and Cook wrote a second psychology paper using those who asked for data as study subjects.

Matters have stalled. But, Lewandowsky and Cook have your confidence. You have supported them through the years. They may pass over their critics and study subjects in silence but they owe you an answer. You and others have sunk significant effort into running Cook’s website over the years. How does the same silence appease you? Releasing the data would answer questions you raise more than anyone else’s.

Could you use your influence to assist getting the raw survey data released?

-With thanks
S

Nuccitelli’s Streisand Moment

dana2

Dana Nuccitelli tied himself up in knots on Twitter recently, and is still attempting to walk back from his own statements. His initial tweet, he says, was “a mistake”, “imprecise”, “poorly worded” and “wasn’t accurately worded”. He hasn’t been able to bring himself to say: ‘I was wrong. What I said was false.’

There are two threads discussing Nuccitelli’s tactics, devoted exclusively for this purpose. Between them, almost every possible excuse to overlook his behaviour has been offered up by the apologists. Excellent. Everyone’s forgotten about the tornadoes.

In order to protect their fragile arguments, alarmists like Nuccitelli resort to censorship and secrecy. In the resulting cloistered surroundings their egos swell and their reasoning acquires bizarre features. Nuccitelli imagines that false statements can be defended indefinitely, simply because they’re his. Nuccitelli also believes he can play fast and loose with proper attribution, grammar and other such basic elements of  scholarly parlance, as long as he’s picking on the ‘right targets’. Nuccitelli heard Richard Muller being criticized by tornado scientists and decided to attack Roger Pielke Jr in, because Muller reminded him of Pielke Jr.

By this thuggish logic, you could hear of a bank robbery on the evening news and walk out and clock your neighbour in the face, because, at one point, your neighbour argued that those accused of robberies in court were to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Seralini Debacle

I love the Seralini debacle. It is instructional. A veritable horde is crying for the paper to be retracted. The reasons? It’s become ‘a paper’, it has been published, it will be ‘used’ by activists, it will mislead people. Oh, the horror!

These are the same people (such luminaries as Keith Kloor and Mark Lynas) who look the other way when papers with the same set of flaws drive policies and actions they favour. Their house favourite Greenpeace runs around destroying GM experimental crop. The IPCC does the exact same thing as Seralini except on a much vaster scale: release press proclamations to a captive audience. The fear-mongering junk science jamborees run for months on auto-pilot. There are numerous papers in animal toxicology, environmental and cancer research that have all the flaws listed against the Seralini paper. Sample size issues? There are clowns drawing conclusions from a sample size of zero! Data availability? There are people who refuse to release data 15 years after the paper was originally published. The authors are reported to have shown the journal editor their raw data.

Here’s the worst part: looking at authors’ data, the editor of the journal found “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data” and commended them for “commitment to the scientific process”. The journal peer-review looked the sample sizes and “weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation”. Yet, the paper has to be retracted.

Why? Because, according to the editor, “no definitive conclusions can be reached” from the small sample sizes and because, ridiculously enough, the “results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.” This, for a paper that already cleared the threshold and was published by the journal.

Only about a week back Science published an excellent article on the problems with animal studies. Surely, the torrent of informed criticism of the shoddy methodology in Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease research must have reached you in full force, over the years.

A paper once published cannot be de-published. Beyond the universally acceptable violations of research norms of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism and ethical violations, there remain little reason to retract a published paper. The critics of Seralini and the editor, collectively, seem unable to explain why numerous forms of redress available to them, namely, replies, letters to the editor, notices of concern, or corrections would not suffice. Such retractions without rationale are politics, not science.

The sooner science and scientists stop this Illuminati bullshit and get back to work, the better.

The Lewandowsky Recursive Fury Ethics ‘Approval’

The now-withdrawn Lewandowsky Fury paper (link) is possibly one of the egregious examples of ethically compromised research encountered. Delve into the paper, the first thing crossing one’s mind is: how did the university ethics committee approve this project? This was the study protocol - Lewandowsky’s associates would carry out real-time surveillance on people criticizing his paper, prod and provoke them, record their responses and perform ‘analysis’. How did they say yes?

Lewandowsky’s correspondence with University of Western Australia (UWA) officials has been released (link). Amidst a storm of emails on this previous work, he writes to the secretary of the ethics committee (10 Sep 2012) of his intention to start another project:

This is just to inform you of the fact that I will be writing a follow-up paper to the one that just caused this enormous stir. The follow-up paper will analyze the response to my first paper …

Lewandowsky states there will be no interaction with his subjects: none of the research “will involve experimentation, surveys, questionnaires or a direct approach of participants of any sort“. (emphasis mine)

letter

What would the research be? According to Lewandowsky, his team would “analyz[e] “Google trends” and other indicators of content that are already in the public domain (e.g. blog posts, newspapers, comments on blogs, that type of thing)”. The research would “basically just summarize and provide a timeline of the public’s response.”

The email is a remarkably misleading and limited description of the project he and his associates conducted.

The ethics office response is further divorced from reality. The approval was granted as a “follow-up” study to the ‘Moon’ paper. The ‘Moon Hoax’ paper was itself was approved under an application for “Understanding Statistical Trends”. As recounted here, “Understanding Statistical Trends” was a study where Lewandowsky’s associates showed a graph to shopping mall visitors and asked questions (link pdf). This application was modified to add the ‘Moon hoax’ questions on the day the original paper was accepted for publication. The same application was modified for the ‘Recursive Fury’ paper. Each modification introduced ethical considerations not present in the previous step. Nevertheless, three unrelated research projects were allowed to be stacked on to a single ethics approval by the university board. In this way, Lewandowsky was able to carry out covert observational activities on members of the general public, as they reacted to his own work, with no human research ethical oversight.

Lewandowsky pitches his study proposal as non-intrusive, observational and retrospective in design: there is “no human participation”, the “content is already in the public domain”, and “irrespective of whether we then summarize that activity”. What he implied was there was minimal concern for more elaborate safeguards and vetting usually put in place when working with human subjects.

Yet during the period of study, Lewandowsky was in direct conversation with his study subjects (even as he ostensibly observed them). On a posting spree, he wrote 9 articles at shapingtomorrowsworld.org between Sept 3 – 19, 2012. About half of these were written after he approached the ethics office on the 10th. All but two were written after he announced that he was already collecting data, to the university deputy vice chancellor on the 5th. Among individuals named in the paper as harboring conspiracist ideas, three posted detailed comments with multiple questions responding to these posts, on his website. The subjects wrote numerous posts at their own blogs on Lewandowsky’s actions in the same interval. The flow of comments, appearance and final content were influenced by the second author, John Cook. A team headed by Cook operated as moderators at shapingtomorrowsworld.org, deleting parts, or whole comments offered by the subjects in the same interval. The elicited comments and posts were harvested as data for the paper.

plans

The study was thus not an examination of archived material on blogs. As the authors themselves describe, they recorded subject comments and blog-posts in “real-time”, responses occurring to events set in motion by themselves. It cannot be considered a observational study either as authors interacted with the purported subjects during the period of study.

In her reply, the ethics secretary directs Lewandowsky to the UWA Human Subjects research web page (link). The page contains a ‘risk assessment checklist’ to guide researchers to whether a planned study would need ethics approval. It has these questions:

  1. Active concealment of information from participants and/or planned deception of participants
  2. Will participants be quoted or be identifiable, either directly or indirectly, in reporting of the research?
  3. Will data that can identify an individual (or be used to re-identify an individual) be obtained from databanks, databases, tissue banks or other similar data sources?
  4. Might the research procedures cause participants psychological or emotional distress?
  5. Does the research involve covert observation?

The answer is a ‘Yes’ to many of these questions.  ‘Participants’ declared to be conspiratorial by Lewandowsky are directly identified by name in the paper. The element of covert observation is undeniable.

The possibility of ethical breaches with internet-based research are well-understood. Clare Madge (2007) observed ethically questionable research could come to be carried out “under the radar screens of ethics committees” simply owing to the ease and speed of internet-based research resulting in ‘shoddy cowboy research’ and proliferation of ethical misconduct. The study design and conduct of the Lewandowsky et al 2013 ‘Recursive Fury’ contains numerous ethical failures. Lewandowsky’s email characterized his work in terms which turned out to be their opposite. There was no formal application and there was no review and consequently the prospective,non-observational nature of his project went unscrutinized. 

Notes:
Madge C. 
Developing a geographers’ agenda for online research ethics Prog Hum Geogr Oct 2007; 31(5): 654-674

A rule of thumb

Our inability to predict in environments subjected to the Black Swan, coupled with a general lack of the awareness of this state of affairs, means that certain professionals, while believing they are experts, are in fact not. Based on their empirical record, they do not know more about their subject matter than the general population, but they are much better at narrating—or, worse, at smoking you with complicated mathematical models. They are also more likely to wear a tie.

-from the prologue to Nicholas N Taleb’s The Black Swan

hansen-tie

 

Why is the Cultural Cognition Project anti-intellectual?

Scientific debate has a peculiar character: it behaves exactly like regular debate. What’s peculiar is only that some people think it’s different.

You can see this right away because the claims about how science is ‘different’ come from people who intend to use it as a lever.

In regular debate, I explain my views and the other side theirs. I might think he or she may not be convinced, due to ‘deep seated cultural attitudes’, superstition, bias of race, gender and religion. But I don’t dwell in prejudice. It is possible.

In every sphere, the same play of power follows. Prejudice is part of the ground state of the human condition. But it can be suppressed, bypassed, given a different bone to play with, cheated, or even overcome.

The ‘Cultural Cognition Project‘ is run by law professor Dan Kahan. One of its over-riding themes is that people view scientific findings through a cultural lens. They accept or reject findings based on their ‘worldview’, on whether it resonates with their in-group etc.

This is profoundly anti-intellectual. It implies people are mindless victims of emotional undercurrents that operate out of reach of their rational grasp. In Kahan’s approach, the corollary question becomes: ‘since people cannot be reached by reasoning, what forms of salesmanship need to be undertaken to package your findings and fool your audience into buying them?’

Kahan’s game properly belongs in marketing, not science of any sort.