Today has been entertaining to say the least. On Twitter, Ben Pile of Climate Resistance has been telling us all about how he learned that the Lewandowsky-Cook Paper#2 – titled ‘Recursive Fury’, which detailed all manners of conspiratorial ideation theory, was retracted, or was retracted and put back up, or is about to be, or something. Nobody seems quite sure of the behind the scenes machinations going on at “Skeptical Science” and Lew-world.
Pile pointed out that Cook’s buddy and SkS Tank Commander Dana Nuccitelli (context here) authored a post at Skeptical Science announcing the paper’s retracton/demise/flushing, but then, that post was inexplicably removed from SkS. But, it is still on Google cache here. I’ve saved a PDF of the page here.
The puffed up embargo notice for the SkS blog post is a hilarious touch, as it is now March 21st in Australia.
Some excerpts of that “disappeared” SkS post:
EMBARGOED UNTIL 20 March 2014
Contrarians bully journal into retracting a climate psychology paper
Posted on 20 March 2014 by dana1981
Given that fewer than 3 percent of peer-reviewed climate science papers conclude that the human influence on global warming is minimal, climate contrarians have obviously been unable to make a convincing scientific case. Thus in order to advance their agenda of delaying climate solutions and maintaining the status quo in the face of a 97 percent expert consensus suggesting that this is a high-risk path, contrarians have engaged in a variety of unconventional tactics.
- Funding a campaign to deny the expert climate consensus.
- Harassing climate scientists and universities with frivolous Freedom of Information Act requests.
- Engaging in personal, defamatory public attacks on climate scientists.
- Flooding climate scientists with abusive emails.
- Illegally hacking university servers and stealing their emails.
- Harassing journals to retract inconvenient research.
That final tactic has evolved, from merely sending the journal a petition signed by a bunch of contrarians, to sending journals letters threatening libel lawsuits. Unfortunately, this strategy has now succeeded.
NASA Faked the Moon Landing
The story begins with the publication of a paper titled NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science. The paper was authored by Lewandosky, Oberauer, and Gignac, and published in the journal Psychological Science in 2012. Using survey data from visitors to climate blogs, the paper found that conspiracy theorists are more likely to be skeptical of scientists’ conclusions about vaccinations, genetically modified foods, and climate change.
Frontiers Bails Out
However, nobody likes being called a conspiracy theorist, and thus climate contrarians really didn’t appreciate Recursive Fury. Very soon after its publication, the journal Frontiers was receiving letters from contrarians threatening libel lawsuits. In late March 2013, the journal decided to “provisionally remove the link to the article while these issues are investigated.” The paper was in limbo for nearly a full year until Frontiers finally caved to these threats.
In its investigation, the journal found no academic or ethical problems with Recursive Fury. However, the fear of being sued by contrarians for libel remained. The University of Western Australia (UWA: Lewandowsky’s university when Recursive Fury was published – he later moved to the University of Bristol) also investigated the matter and found no academic, ethical, or legal problems with the paper. In fact, UWA is so confident in the validity of the paper that they’re hosting it on their own servers.
After nearly a year of discussions between the journal, the paper authors, and lawyers on both sides, Frontiers made it clear that they were unwilling to take the risk of publishing the paper and being open to potential frivolous lawsuits. Both sides have finally agreed to retract Recursive Fury.
It’s unfortunate that the Frontiers editors were unwilling to stand behind a study that they admitted was sound from an academic and ethical standpoint, especially since UWA concluded the paper would withstand a legal assault. Nobody wants to get caught up in a lawsuit, but by caving in here, Frontiers has undoubtedly emboldened climate contrarians to use this tactic again in the future to suppress inconvenient research. Academics also can’t be confident that the Frontiers staff will stand behind them if they publish research in the journal and are subjected to similar frivolous attacks. Frontiers may very well be worse off having lost the confidence of the academic community than if they had called the bluffs of the contrarians threatening frivolous lawsuits.
Hopefully editors of other climate-related journals will learn from this debacle and refuse to let climate contrarians bully them into suppressing valid but inconvenient research.
We are all scratching our heads at the “threat of libel” narrative. As far as I know, nobody in the climate skeptic community has instigated a libel lawsuit or even gotten a lawyer involved over the Lew paper. Mostly we just laugh about it. But I do know that some letters were sent to the journal about the procedures involved in the paper, where people that you are studying for psychological evaluations/studies must be notified and/or give consent, something that apparently wasn’t done.
There’s another oddity; Ben Pile gives details about a notice at the top of the online version of the paper at UWA which floated up today (last edited March 18th according to the PDF properties) which explains that Courts in the USA have ruled that foreign libel rulings are unenforceable in the USA:
And to top it off, the original paper can still be seen at the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.
Seems like some serious randomness is going on. Given the unreliability we have witnessed from SkS in the past, maybe they are simply mixing things up in this pea-and-thimble game to keep us guessing. If so, have at it SkS kidz, we’ll watch with amusement.
Or, maybe they are just incompetent. Who knows?
As Johnny Carson used to say “That is some weird, wild stuff“.
UPDATE: Steve McIntyre leaves this note in comments
Anthony, you say “But I do know that some letters were sent to the journal about the procedures involved in the paper, where people that you are studying for psychological evaluations/studies must be notified and/or give consent, something that apparently wasn’t done.” This gives an incomplete picture,
The Lewandowsky article made a variety of defamatory and untrue allegations against me with malice. I accordingly sent a strongly worded and detailed letter to the journal formally requesting that they withdraw the allegations and retract the article. I didn’t “instigate a libel lawsuit” or get “a lawyer involved” but the letter was a formal one. It was my hope that the journal would recognize the many defects of the Lewandowsky article and behave responsibly, as they eventually did.
UPDATE2: 3/20/14 10:00PM PDT. Now the paper at UWA that was available earlier at http://websites.psychology.uwa.edu.au/labs/cogscience/Publications/LskyetalRecursiveFury4UWA.pdf has been removed from the server. Quite amusing that these guys can’t seem to find a permanent place to house their paper, which seems to be toxic now.
UPDATE3: 3/21/14 7:45AM PDT The paper at UWA that was available earlier at http://websites.psychology.uwa.edu.au/labs/cogscience/Publications/LskyetalRecursiveFury4UWA.pdf seems to have been put back on the server. No explanation given.
UPDATE4: 3/21/14 10:20AM PDT Retraction Watch says:
Controversial paper linking conspiracy ideation to climate change skepticism formally retracted
A year after being clumsily removed from the web following complaints, a controversial paper about “the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science” is being retracted.
The release of the news about the retraction has been a messy affair, with a Google cache version of an “embargoed” post about the situation circulating on the web yesterday, and then the story apparently breaking on climate skeptic blog Watts Up With That.
Note: WUWT didn’t break the story, that honor goes to reader Barry Woods, who advised Ben Pile, and Andrew Montford at Bishop Hill had it before WUWT did.
UPDATE5: 3/21/14 10:35AMPDT The formal retraction is up on the Frontiers of Psychology Website. http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00293/full