Stephan Lewandowsky’s slow motion Psychological Science train wreck

Train wreck at Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France, 1895 – Image: Wikipedia

I’m a bit of a latecomer to this affair, as Lucia and Jo Nova took an early lead on pointing out the many problems with the survey methodology (or lack thereof) with the paper:

Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K., & Gignac, C. E. (in press). NASA faked the moon landing – therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science. Psychological Science.

“Motivated” is the key word here, as it appears there were hidden motivations for this paper. It seems though, once you scratch the surface of Lewandowsky’s paper, that it is nothing more than a journal sanctioned smear of climate skeptics based on not only faulty data, but data gathered with a built in bias.

Besides what we already know about the flawed sampling method, the lack of follow up with skeptic blogs to make sure they got communications inviting them to post the survey, and the early release of results before the survey was complete, the most troubling new revelation appears to be that some climate skeptic blogs got different questionaires than their counterpart AGW advocate blogs. If true (and it appears to be based on the survey numbering system) this negates the study on the basis of inconsistent sampling, and I think it is time to ask Psychological Science editor Robert V. Kail to investigate this paper, and if he finds what the skeptics have, start a retraction. I’ve sent him a courtesy note advising him of this issues with this paper.

Here’s a summary of what has been going on the last couple of days.

Jo Nova has a great summary here, and writes about one Australian investigator who was invited to take the survey questions two years ago, kept screen shots of it,  and did an analysis. She wrote:

Graham from OnlineOpinion was so struck by the study he’s written a post titled: Fish rot from the head Part 1.

Read it to get familiar with the survey questions.

Next there’s the who got what version of what survey problem, Jo notes this:

Leopard on the Bishop Hill thread has noted that Steve McIntyre is asking Lewandowsky why there are two or even three different forms of the survey? Why indeed?

Paul follows them up:

The Deltoid, Tamino, Mandia and Hot-Topic blogs were sent the survey number surveyID=HKMKNF_991e2415 on about August 29th. That survey is on the archive, and starts with 6 questions about free markets.

Bickmore and Few Things had the survey number surveyID=HKMKNG_ee191483 also about Aug 29, but this one doesn’t seem to be on the archive.

Steve Mc was sent survey number surveyID=HKMKNI_9a13984 on Sept 6th. This survey is on the archive, and it starts with 5 completely different questions! About how happy you are with life.

This right here should be enough for a retraction from the Journal. If different surveys were sent to different bloggers, and no mention of it was made in the paper or justified in the methodology, then this amounts to purposely biased data from the beginning. UWA may also find grounds for academic misconduct if Lewandowsky purposefully sent different sets of questions based on the type of blog he was inviting.

And then we have the fact that Lewandowsky was discussing preliminary results at a seminar, while the surveys were still open and he had not heard back from the skeptic blogs yet, such as the follow up invitation to Steve McIntyre. Having an open discussion of the survey is highly irregular, because attendees/viewers are free to take the survey, possibly biasing the results.

On the 23rd of September, 2010, Dr. Lewandowsky gave a presentation at Monash university which included the following slide:

Lewandowsky & Gignac (forthcoming)

•Internet survey (N=1100)

•Endorsement of climate conspiracy (“hoax by scientists to get grants”) linked to endorsement of other conspiracies (“NASA faked moon landing”)

•Conspiracy factor without climate item predicts rejection of climate science

So three days after (unsuccessfully) asking for cooperation in fieldwork, Lewandowsky is publicly announcing the preliminary results while the surveys are still open, and he hasn’t heard back from invited distributors. Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit notes that he received a follow up invitation on around Sept 20th. (which he didn’t notice until this story broke). Note the N=1100 value in the preliminary slide. The final paper cites an N<1200 value.

And it seems they are still at it, here’s a recent WUWT comment:

Daniel H says:

September 1, 2012 at 6:03 am

Anthony, there was recently another survey (longer, and with a 1-5 scale) put out by Lewandowsky’s research assistant, Charles Hanich, on June 4, 2012. It seems that the link for this survey was only posted on two blogs: Watching the Deniers and Skeptical Science. Charles Hanich was also responsible for creating Lewandowsky’s 2010 survey, as mentioned in the comments here.

Unfortunately, the link to the June 2012 survey is also unavailable. However, a skeptic called the “Manic Bean Counter” captured all the survey questions and dissected them on his/her blog, here. The following is Manic Bean Counter’s breakdown of the types of questions asked in the survey:

1. Climate Change – 5 questions

2. Genetically Modified Foods – 5 questions

3. Vaccines – Benefits and harms – 5 questions

4. Position of the Conservative / Liberal perspective (US definitions) – 7 questions

5. Select neutral (check of the software, or check for spam?) – 1 questions

6. Free market system v social justice / environment / sustainability – 5 questions

7. Conspiracy theories (political) – 6 questions

8. Conspiracy theories (scientific) – 6 questions

9. Personal Spirituality & Religion – 8 questions

10. Evolution – views upon – 7 questions

11. Corporations – 13 questions

12. Personal emotional outlook – 6 questions

The striking thing is that we have John Cook’s Skeptical Science blog listed as presenting both the original as well as the most recent survey. It as been discovered that Cook is a co-author with Levandowsky on a similar paper:

Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K. H., Seifert, C., Schwarz, N. & Cook, J. (in press). Misinformation and its correction: Continued influence and successful debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

One wonders how much Cook contributed to the questions, based on his understanding of his readers likely responses. It is strange irony indeed that the paper discusses “debiasing”, when so many potential biases in Lewandowsky’s methods are clearly obvious to even the casual reader. Wikipedia even cites them for this paper in a section on “debunker

Australian Professorial Fellow Stephan Lewandowsky[5] and John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland (and author at[6] both warn about “backfire effects” in their Debunking Handbook.[2] Backfire effects occur when science communicators accidentally reinforce false beliefs by trying to correct them. For instance, a speaker about global warming may end up reinforcing the crowd’s beliefs that global warming is not happening.

Backfire indeed, this Lewandowsky “moon landing” paper is a full force backfire now.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, it is my opinion that Lewandowsky set out to create the survey data he wanted by manipulation of the survey system through multiple undocumented surveys, incomplete and non-representative sampling, biased survey questions, and essentially no quality control. There weren’t even significant safeguards in place to prevent individuals from taking the survey multiple times, appearing as other identities. There are so many things wrong with this paper that I can’t see it surviving intact.

I think what we have witenessed here is yet another example of noble cause corruption, where the end justifies the means in the minds of the players.

In reviewing Lewandowsky’s writings (here at The Conversation) over the past couple of years, it because painfully obvious that he sees climate skeptics as a scourge to be dealt with and that even crime can be justified:

Revealing to the public the active, vicious, and well-funded campaign of denial that seeks to delay action against climate change likely constitutes a classic public good.

It is a matter of personal moral judgment whether that public good justifies Gleick’s sting operation to obtain those revelations.

I believe that Dr. Lewandowsky set out to show the world that through a faulty, perhaps even fraudulent, smear campaign disguised as peer reviewed science, that climate skeptics were, as Jo Nova puts it, “nutters”. Worse, peer review failed to catch any of the problems now in the open thanks to the work of climate skeptics.

My best advice to Dr. Lewandowsky right now is: withdraw the paper. It has become a lighting rod for everything that is wrong with team climate science today, and multiple lines of investigation are now in progress including FOI requests and demands for academic misconduct reviews at your University of Western Australia.

I can’t see any of it ending well for you given your reticence to offer supporting data or explanations.


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Yup. It is worse than we thought.

Peter Miller

Isn’t it standard practice for ‘climate scientists’ to: i) lose the supporting data, ii) have it eaten by the dog, or iii) be unable to access for supposed copyright or privacy reasons?
Remember, only the homogenised/manipulated/tortured data is allowed in ‘climate science’.
Lewandowsky was therefore only using standard ‘climate science’ practices – so, not much new here then.

Chris B

Post-moral Science business as usual..

Wow… Just wow. Speechless

charles nelson

University of W.A., that’s Perth isn’t it? The Ghost Metropolis.

charles nelson

Oh and whilst I’m on the subject…how does Lewandowsky reconcile the fact that 30 ex Nasa employees, including ASTRONAUTS signed a letter expressing their scepticism about CAGW?
Is he implying that these, rocket scientists, engineers and astronauts don’t believe that NASA landed a man on the moon?

Lewandowsky has lots of strange ideas. Previously, he claimed that the less you know about something, the more likely it is that it will be worse than you think it is.


So what? I don’t see you having any peer reviewed and published papers on the subject. Freakin’ deniers, I swear.

I actually have two peer reviewed papers in Climate, plus a third on the way. see
You might want to do your research before shooting you mouth off again in a swearing. Be as upset as you wish. Cheers, – Anthony

R. Shearer

How many climate “gates” does this make? I’ve lost count.


Compare and contrast:
It is a matter of personal moral judgment whether that public good justifies Gleick’s sting operation to obtain those revelations.
Stephan Lewandowsky.
To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest
Stephen Schneider.

Is this what is referred to as “Post-Normal Science”?


Currently getting no access to Jo’s site; this has been going on for at least an hour. Of course it could just be access in my region of Ontario…
[snip – unnecessary]

Jimmy Haigh

the lewandowsky affair typical of”climate science’. They made up all the data and it is a load of bollocks.


And Maus winds up for the slam dunk and lands hard on his face in a complete miss.

Frank Kotler

A commenter over at Bishop Hill’s refers to it as “the Lew paper”… and notes that the pun is intentional. 🙂


Australian Science what a shame

Rick Bradford

Lewandowsky has not matured emotionally beyond the point where he believes that what he wants to be true, automatically *is* true.

Duke C.

This will turn out bad for Charles Hanich, Lewandowsky’s research assistant, whether or not he had direct knowledge of the goings-on.


I did an survey (sorry cannot reveal the data as the dog ate my email so FOI is pointless and my lawyer is bigger than your lawyer) which showed a 76.3% probability that anyone who used the letters “MAUS” in their blog name was a secret UWA acolyte who had forgotten to take their pills that day. My survey has about the same degree of significance as the good Perfessor except, except, mine was not taxpayer subsidised. Nice one Anthony; keep keeping the peer review process honest as the academics can’t or won’t.


Anthony: “You might want to do your research before shooting you mouth off again in a swearing. Be as upset as you wish. Cheers, – Anthony”
You know, I forgot the sarc tag and thought about posting a follow up to make it more clear. But then I figured there was no possible manner in which something so ludicrous could be confused with an actual argument put forward by one of your detractors. Apologies for any confusion that’s resulted from setting the bar too high.
REPLY: It had no hint of satire to me, sorry. I take ’em as I see ’em – Anthony


Looks like standard CAGW “science” to me, lie cheat make stuff up (for the imaginary greater good) and loose all the raw data when called out on the crap.

Louis Hooffstetter

Thank you Dr. Lewandowsky for providing yet another shining example of the quality of research we’ve come to expect from climastrologists. I do hope it’s not too late to get this paper into AR5, as it is certainly on par with previous research by Drs. Mann, Jones, Briffa, Rahmstorf,Santer, Steig, & Gleick.
Best of luck.

Ben Pile says September 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm
Lewandowsky has lots of strange ideas. Previously, he claimed that the less you know about something, the more likely it is that it will be worse than you think it is.

Is this “the less you know about something, the more likely it is that it will be worse than you think it is” thing applicable to dogs too?
(as dogs know nuthin ’bout physics or the other sciences for that matter …)

For information I’ve written on behalf of the Scottish Climate & Energy Forum asking the university to investigate this misconduct.
If we don’t get satisfactory action from the University, then I think the next stage is to take out a libel action as it appears to be an open and shut case of an individual deliberately setting out to harm reputations and given the potential number of litigants this cost could be enormous for all the authors, the journal and perhaps even the University.

He obviously doesn’t work in the real world. I’ve found that conspiracists who believe in faked NASA moon landings are more likely to believe in apocalyptic views of the world, including catastrophic climate change, even if the various scenarios and conspiracies are at odds with each other.
It’s a condition known as credophilia.

Paul Marko

Did he really think he would be able pull this off without question? What has happened to the moral and ethical base of these, so called, scholar scientists. It has to be the threat of the research grant money leaving the station for another scientific discipline.

cui bono

Anyone wanting to have a go at a counter survey can try .
Also, Elizabeth says (September 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm)
Australian Science what a shame
Elizabeth, it’s not just Australia. They’re everywhere! We’re all in danger from them! Warn the people while you still can!

PS: Lew, does the above mean that 98.4% of sceptics are paranoid?

Berényi Péter

Why, the dangers of bread are well known, as well as those of Dihydrogen Monoxide. Still, deniers abound.


Post-moral science. Perfect name for Lewandowsky’s brand of voodoo (or maybe the “v” should be a “d”).

In the petroleum industry, we have a term, a “Bar Geologist”. He is one who literally hangs around bars and lounges, scrounges gossip and “secrets” from buddies and loudmouths about fabulous opportunities and the lowdown on geological backgrounds for sizzling oil projects. He is later full of swagger and scattered detail that makes him sound in touch and having a wide ranging expertise, so much so that small, promotional companies will pay him stupid money to come on board. His paperwork is sloppy but colourful, and always lacking the answers to key questions (that he’ll get back to you on “later”). But ultimately he is a man familiar with jargon, a penchant for jumping on whatever bandwagon is clattering by, and the death of any investment based on his word.
Lewandowsky has all the attributes of a Bar Psychologist. (He probably leaves the bar before the bill is settled, like his geological colleague).


What’s wrong with you guys? The paper was very properly pal reviewed. That’s the post-normal standard and by God this paper stands!

Considering the alarmists continue to use the “97% of climate scientists believe in CAGW” rubbish I’m certain any criticisms of this piece of garbage will be ignored also.

David Ross

Here is Lewandowsky at full flow in 2009
Lewandowsky’s Ode to Joy

Fraction too much fiction in ‘climategate’
Stephan Lewandowsky
The Age, December 5, 2009
Stolen emails do not support wild claims of scientific misconduct.
‘Climategate has gone viral on the web, forcing the director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia to step aside pending an investigation. Hacked emails point to leading climate scientists withholding data, subverting the peer-review process, and distorting information. These are stunning accusations of serious misconduct, but are they true?
They are not. Even if we presume that the stolen material is authentic, the notion that climate data is being nefariously withheld is fantastical. …
If climate scientists invented a trend, why are 400 out of 442 glaciers monitored worldwide retreating at a rapid rate? Why are sea levels rising? If climate scientists cooked the books, why have wind speeds in the southern oceans increased by 20 per cent since 1980? If climate scientists cheated, why is the human toll from civil wars in Africa a function of temperature? Darfur is a climate war, and a recent study showed that every extra degree Celsius in a given year increases the likelihood of civil conflict in Africa by 50 per cent. Best scientific estimates predict an additional human toll of 390,000 in Africa by 2030 because of climate change.
No, the climate scientists did nothing wrong. They just produced amazingly good science on a shoestring budget for the betterment of humanity. Everything we experience today was predicted 10 years ago and could have been ameliorated by heeding scientific advice.
And just because it is an interesting detective story, what about that “decline” that was being “hidden”? Paleoclimatology is a fascinating discipline that provides us with a temperature record dating back millennia by using “proxy” measures, such as the width of tree rings, corals, or ice cores. Proxies are calibrated by correlating them with modern temperature records. More than 1200 such proxy measures exist and, oddly, one of them showed a decline after 1960 while actual temperatures increased. This finding is well-known and cannot be hidden. But it makes no sense to graph the decline because we know what the temperatures were after 1960. So, the “trick” is simply to plot temperature using the best available measure for any given time period; proxies where necessary and measured temperature otherwise. This hides nothing.
Beautiful science like this is a human achievement that ranks equal to Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Why would anyone forgo that for the hysterical caterwauling surrounding some cherry-picked stolen emails?

Can’t you just hear the violins and heavenly choir when gaze upon the beauty of Mann’s hockey stick. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye of a drowning polar bear.
Here’s what happens when data goes missing.

Prof. Lewandowsky, get some therapy.


“Revealing to the public the active, vicious, and well-funded campaign of denial that seeks to delay action against climate change likely constitutes a classic public good”
Is this not an example of a classical conspiracy theory?
The Thermogeddonists are the real conspiracy theorists.

Rob JM

How can you call this a scientific paper when it was published in a psychology journal to start with!


There are people that actually tell the truth in online surveys ??
There are people that actually believe the results of online surveys ??
Hey have I got a deal for you.

Robert of Ottawa

Can some Aussie make a formal complaint to his university and the rags that publish his “work”.

Shane Kerr

Shorter Lewandowsky. “I went on the internet and found conspiracy theories – therefore climate change is real.”


Lewandowsky says:
“As our physical understanding of climate change has become more and more robust, public debate has become progressively more disconnected from the scientific literature.
“It’s unsurprising, then, that Hans Schellnhuber, chief climate advisor to the German government and himself a natural scientist, recently argued that 90% of all research on global change ought to be conducted by social scientists.”
“…CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere in the same way as the water level in a bathtub rises while the tap is on. Absent any leakage, the only way to stabilize the water level is to shut off the tap completely.
“…we must eventually reduce emissions to zero if we wish CO2 levels to stabilise and then, by natural absorption, to ever so gradually reduce over time.
“According to our Treasury, cutting emissions by 90% by 2050 would still see per capita GNP rise from the current $50,000 to around $80,000.”
Note to students of Lewandowsky: escape while your brain still works properly.


The truly embarrassing thing for all those concerned is that this “research” will forever be available – an enduring testamonial of the authors, their institution and the journal, so hopefully named ‘Psychological Science’.

Maus says:
September 5, 2012 at 4:36 pm
> You know, I forgot the sarc tag and thought about posting a follow up to make it more clear.
I’ve learned over time that hurling insults, even at friends, will likely be taken literally.
Two suggestions:
1) Don’t forget the </sarc>
2) Don’t insult people.
You can have a perfectly reasonable discussion with someone you don’t like if you lay off the insults. It’s very hard to have a computer-mediated discussion with someone you like if use insult. Jest doesn’t convey well.
> Apologies for any confusion that’s resulted from setting the bar too high.
If you’re using insults of any sort, your bar is not very high.

Isn’t it also interesting, despite the grand title, the press release fanfare, and at least two MSM articles about Lew’s findings, not one of the usual suspects fell for it: no Romm, no Tamino, no Cook. Actually I don’t think anybody who’s anybody in the online climate discourse has used Lew’s “results” for anything.
As things stand I wouldn’t be surprised if Lew were considered a bit off the rails even by fellow activists.

Tom J

Where does one begin with this? Only a cursory reading is necessary to recognize that Lewandewsky has engaged in a complete violation of professional ethics, or at least ethics as I understand them. It is quite a wonderful thing actually, that nature saw fit to create an organism that is sentient and that can actually discover how it works. That deserves respect. To attempt to control another either through force, manipulation, and/or deception is a violation of that respect. It seems to me that out of all the disciplines the ones involving medicine and human behavior have the highest ethical bar. It appears Lewandewsky has broken it. I’m sorry but to deceive others is not something to be done. He is not an impressive psychologist. He lacks enough knowledge of his own behavior to even question it and it speaks badly on that professional journal to even consider carrying his results.

I’m amazed at the multiple different surveys. I’d assume that there is no safeguard between people taking each different survey, though I suppose one could post-process things to look at IP addresses and hostnames, and maybe also discard surveys from know anonymizer sites. (And what’s the gain for doing that? Dumb question, I guess – What’s the gain to mount a DoS attack on a web server you don’t like?)

Robert Roosen

“When truth becomes a commodity,
honesty is an oddity.”


Rick Bradford –
Lewandowsky has long seen himself as the mature one when it comes to CAGW:
2007: OnLineOpinion: Stephan Lewandowsky: Nappy changes, oil changes, and
climate change
In light of those facts, seeking to expand an economy by unabated continued
reliance on fossil fuels is, simply put, infantile. It is only the toddler
who wants the lolly now, only the nine-year-old who cannot wait a week for a
laptop, and only the fleet manager who makes a buck by saving on the oil
change who would think that our country’s record on climate inaction
represents good economic management…
The issue is how to bear the total price tag of US$20 trillion
($20,000,000,000,000) which represent current estimates of the cost of
climate inaction for the remainder of the century…


Unfortunately Anthony, the survey I captured is a later version. Jo Nova brought to my attention that this is NOT the questionnaire used in Lewandowsky et al 2012. There are similarities but this appears to be a development of the 2010 survey, and was probably being trialled at “Watching the Deniers” site.
Ambit Gambit seems to have captured the original survey.
There are still some shortcomings that I think have not been fully recognised.
1. If “climate denial” is on a par with “holocaust” or “smoking” denial, why not start by referencing the clearest statement of the evidence, rather than opinion surveys. That is, if direct evidence is available, why resort to hearsay evidence?
2. But if opinion surveys are used, then they should at least be good ones. But the primary references are Anderegg, Prall, Harold, & Schneider, 2010 (Most climate scientists believe in the science) and Doran & Zimmerman, 2009 (97% of climate scientists = 75/77 cut from >3000 responses).
3. Even so, surely the association with NASA Moon Landings was correct? After all, the title is “NASA faked the moon landing|Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.” Not when 93% of all respondents gave it a firm thumbs down.
4. When Lewandowsky says over >1100 responses, and only talks about those who “reject the science”, it surely implies that all (or at least the vast majority) of responses were from the people he is attacking? Actually, around 15% of responses were from skeptics, in terms of answers to four “climate science” questions. Professional polling organisations in the UK state these figures. But a scientific journal seems not to have insisted.
5. There are loads of conspiracy theories. But one of the most popular in recent years is something like “Climate denial only exists as a serious force due to significant funding by oil and tobacco interests.” I can’t imagine how anyone with a broad knowledge of the climate blogs could overlook that one.

What is sadder – even though they apparently received significant (heck – looks like “huge” to me) grants and funding, Lewandowsky was too cheap to use a professional online survey organization.

Paul Coppin

Ryan Maue had the Universal Descriptor for these intellectually challenged “academics”: “batshit crazy”


anthony, Sage Publications’ Robert Kail thanks Lewandowsky:
Sage Publications: Psychological Science: Acknowledgment
The Associate Editors and I wish to acknowledge the invaluable aid provided by guest reviewers of manuscripts submitted to Psychological Science in 2009. We are deeply grateful for their generous, conscientious, knowledgeable, and constructive help. -Robert V. Kail
(lengthy list includes):
Stephan Lewandowsky
Acknowledgements for years prior to and post 2009 do not have the full A-Z on a single page and you have to be a subscriber to gain access, e.g.
so i can’t say if Lewandowsky has been a regular reviewer.


September 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm | LamontT says:
And Maus winds up for the slam dunk and lands hard on his face in a complete miss.
hehehehe … like this ?