UQ Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor Alastair McEwan on Cook et al 97% project: More contradictions

Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland Alastair McEwan has released a brief statement on the Cook et al paper.

McEwan states “all data” of ‘any scientific value’ has been released by the authors. This is not true. Rater ids and their time-stamps have not been released.

McEwan also states some material was not released: information that could “identify the individual research participants was withheld.” 

This information was not withheld. Volunteers are listed by name as authors and in the acknowledgements in the paper.

Furthermore, volunteers who rated abstracts are not ‘research participants’ in the paper. If they were, Cook et al 2013 would not be a survey of the literature. It would become a survey of volunteers.

A commenter at Hiizuru writes:

So are they admitting that this “research” was actually a study about the raters skills to classify scientific papers according to a set of parameters and not about the actual content of the papers at all?

Richard Tol wrote to Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj a year ago. Declaring volunteer identities confidential would mean the paper was a ‘survey of the raters’ beliefs and skills, rather than a survey of the abstracts they rated’.

If, on the other hand, this was a survey of the raters’ beliefs and skills, rather than a survey of the abstracts they rated, then Mr Cook is correct that their identity should remain confidential. But this undermines the entire paper: It is no longer a survey of the literature, but rather a survey of Mr Cook and his friends.

Rud Istvan notes the contradiction: if volunteers were research participants according to the institutional ethics review, the authors themselves were in breach of it. They wrote about their own work as participants!

In reality, these absurdities are easily resolved. Cook et al 2013 is not a survey of ‘Mr Cook and his friends’. It is a survey of the literature, as the title declares.

What the authors did was not survey themselves as participants but apply a uniform rating scale on abstracts. Is this process reproducible and valid? The question carries scientific value. The answers may potentially overturn the paper.

Answering this question requires not the identities of the volunteers but of the abstracts they each rated.


University of Queensland threatens blog with legal action for analyzing Cook et al 97% consensus data

The farce has tipped over into the gulch

About a year back, John Cook and his Skepticalscience team members put out a paper finding a 97% ‘consensus’ in climate literature. An unstoppable media juggernaut trailed its wake. Analysis and discussion followed. Among critical voices, Richard Tol summarized his findings in a live manuscript. But available data was not enough to examine the paper’s fundamentals. The long quest for the full raw data began.

In a series of requests to the authors, the journal and the university, Tol contacted everyone concerned. Cook refused to release the data. Matters escalated to University of Queensland Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research Max Lu and portions of data were reluctantly released.

Further problems were immediately evident — they were tweeted within the day. Some discrepancy was to be expected but the new material suggested gaps of significantly larger magnitude. It appeared the system used was not reliable:

Tol continued his efforts and more data was released. However, meta-data required for validation continued to be held back. Tol eventually published his paper without such data.

Closely on its heels, blogger Brandon Shollenberger announced he had additional data. At this juncture, legal threats arrived from the University of Queensland. The university has threatened to sue Shollenberger for breach of copyright, warning him to not release or analyse the data.

Precious secret research data

The university has claimed confidentiality issues and copyright over the data. However, Cook gifted paper authorship to eight volunteers who rated high numbers of papers. Twelve others were named in the acknowledgements for ‘collecting email addresses and rating abstracts’. Their names were public. As Anthony Watts notes, the paper was published under a Creative Commons license.

In his study, Cook emailed authors of papers asking for ratings on a consensus scale.  He also used several volunteers to rate climate abstracts. The reliability problems came to light with the first release. The match between scientists ratings and the volunteers was poor. Were similar issues lurking behind the paper’s headline conclusion?

It is meta-data that would answer such questions Shollenberger has now come into possession. This implies serious weaknesses that could come to light with analysis as the reason for the threat of lawsuits.

The oft-repeated claim of 97% consensus appears to be serious trouble.

Survey: Research on climate blogs

Scientists in several fields such as sociology, psychology and anthropology have increasingly turned to the internet. Blogs and social media carry rich information from authors and commenters on these platforms. It is believed studies on comments and posts on these venues can provide insight.

This brief survey inquires about your attitudes toward research conducted on comments posted in climate-related blogs.

Please click here to take the survey.

No personal information is collected. Results will be posted here after completion of the survey.

UPDATE (May 9, 2014): The survey is now closed.



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.



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.

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