Lew and Cook: recursion in the climate ghetto


One of the main indicators of the ‘ghetto-ization’ of climate blogging is a complete lack of response to criticism one encounters. John Cook’s Skepticalscience is a prime example in this regard. These people won’t respond to criticism even if their lives depended on it.

But, on occasion, they will, If they think such criticism might reach important ears, or if they feel there might be blowback

Cook is currently in the middle of one such episode. He has had to respond to Bishop Hill revealing (via Barry Woods’ work), that he and his fellow author Lewandowsky identified Richard Betts, Chief of Climate Impacts of the Met Office UK, as a ‘conspiracist’.

Cook claims on his blog that Betts is not a conspiracist. Betts’ comment on the other hand, made it into the main data table in the supplementary information of his peer-reviewed academic paper.

How does he explain this?

The paper’s methods are quite clear on what was done.

  1. Authors define ‘recursive hypothesis’ – “…any potentially conspiracist ideation that pertained to the article itself or its author, unsubstantiated and potentially conspiracist allegations pertaining to the article’s methodology, intended purpose, or analysis “
  2. Authors use Google searches, Alexa rankings and direct site visits and gather recursive hypotheses
  3. Authors excerpt ‘blog posts’ that published recursive theories into a master table with, and this is key, ‘each excerpt representing a mention of the recursive theory’

Examine point#3 again, just in case. The authors claim that “all recorded instances” of recursive theories are in their supplementary data table. Betts’ qualifies under a specific conspiracist idea – ‘didn’t email deniers’.

The thread with Betts’ comment focused entirely on Lewandowsky’s data and has over one hundred comments. The table contains 9 entries for “didn’t email deniers” excerpted from the thread. All excerpted comments meet the authors’ criteria for ‘recursion’, i.e., express some judgement about Lewandowsky’s method, purpose, analysis or motive. This includes Richard Betts’ comment.

Lewandowsky and Cook now claim

  1. we are certainly not claiming that [Betts] is a conspiracy theorist”
  2. Betts’ name being in the table “attests to the thoroughness of  daily Google search”
  3. the supplementary table just represents “raw data”. 

None of the above can be correct.  It is not possible for the table to just be “raw data”, as their own description of method shows. The comment selection does not reflect on the thoroughness of Google search; rather it does on the faithful identification of comments/posts with recursive conspiracist ideas as defined. As a result, this does imply that Betts is a conspiracy theorist.

If we accept that Betts is not a ‘conspiracist theorist’, then the same would apply to other contributors found by the authors’ searches as well. The Betts comment is qualitatively no different from the others.

It would be interesting to see how Lewandowsky and his co-authors show this not to be true.



  1. foxgoose

    It would be interesting to see – but we won’t because they won’t even try to explain.

    Since they’re both just activists, without a scientific bone in their bodies, they’ll simply ignore the illogicality and bluster on.

  2. Shub Niggurath

    The Lew/Cook post contains an ‘explanation’:

    Lew and Cook claim the criterion for inclusion any comment into their study set “was simply whether or not they referred to one of the hypotheses.”

    Which means the notion of what a hypothesis is, had to have existed before any comments were included. This is self-evidently true. The hypothesis was “didn’t email deniers”

    Lew and Cook then claim the ‘analysis’ of “conspiracist ideation occurred after that” Using the criteria of ‘nefarious intent’, ‘nihilistic skepticism’ and ‘persecuted victim’, they extracted the hypothesis ‘skeptic blogs not contacted’

    Which is the bloody same thing as the first one!

    The same thing is true of the second element. Cook and Marriott searched and included comments that qualifed for “warmists faked data”.

    After applying the ‘criteria’ of ‘nefarious intent’, ‘persecuted victim’, ‘must be wrong’ and ‘self-sealing thing’, they extracted the recursive theory “survey responses scammed by warmists”

    They are both the frickin same thing!

    Which one do you think is more likely?

    That Lew et al did what they say they did, or, that they included comments criticizing Lew’s first paper into an Excel sheet and then read conspiratorial intent into them?

  3. Pingback: Richard Betts clears it up with Stephan Lewandowsky – Shub Niggurath Climate