UPDATE: 4/5/14 I’ve posted some additional correspondence to make what transpired clearer, see below – Anthony
Given the recent retraction of Lewandowsky’s #2 paper “Recursive Fury” and the clear line in the sand drawn by the Journal to Lewandowsky and his supporters over their false claims of “legal threats”, I thought it would be a good time to share the letter I wrote covering both of Lewandowsky’s papers that attempt to frame climate skeptics as “crazy people” by using the Journals Psychological Science and Frontiers in Psychology as bully pulpits.
Clearly, the Lewandowsky “Recursive Fury” paper was really little more than an exposition for the purpose of sliming people who disagreed with their premise about climate science.
Most of this letter (with some redactions) has already been released via FOI requests made from UWA, so there’s really no reason to not publish it in full since even with those redactions, it is clear to anyone familiar with WUWT that I authored it.
I offer my effort below, in entirety, with the exception that two email addresses were redacted as a courtesy, along with my email address and phone number which appeared at the bottom of the letter. I would hope that the Vice Chancellor of UWA, Professor Paul Johnson, will see and heed what I’ve written, because with the latest revelations about Lewandowsky’s paper, his position of denying data sharing for replication is becoming even more untenable.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research).
University of Western Australia
Editor, Psychological Science;
Association for Psychological Science
1133 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
(BY FAX to Washington DC office) April 4th, 2013 4:15PM Pacific Standard Time
To the Editors and administrators of Psychological Science,
This letter is my complaint about your publication of
NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797612457686 published online 26 March 2013 Psychological Science Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer and Gilles E. Gignac
Hereafter, referred to as “LOG”.
I make this complaint because I believe that this research was not only done improperly, but with malice aforethought.
I point out these passages from the paper:
The Internet, by contrast, provides the opportunity for individuals who reject a scientific consensus to feed “each other’s feelings of persecution by a corrupt elite” (McKee & Diethelm, 2010, pp. 1310–1311). Accordingly, climate-“skeptic” blogs have become a major staging post for denial, although blogs are also used by supporters of climate science to disseminate scientific evidence.
Popular climate blogs can register upward of 700,000 monthly visitors, a self-selected audience that is by definition highly engaged in the increasingly polarized climate debate.
Climate-blog denizens therefore present a highly relevant population for the study of variables underlying endorsement or rejection of the scientific consensus on climate.
I operate the most popular climate related blog in the world, WattsUpWithThat.com (WUWT) which typically logs approximately a million unique visitors per month, with typical months having 4 million page views. WUWT also recently approved its one millionth comment. By the definitions given in the LOG paper, WUWT would be a “popular climate blog”.
WUWT is widely read by both sides of the debate and has been the subject of national television interviews, international print and web media stories, as well as the impetus for some congressional investigations into irregularities in climate science. While the audience is primarily of the climate skeptic nature, suffice it to say that WUWT is read by those who both embrace it and those who hate it due to its wide reach.
The reason for my compliant is that Dr. Lewandowsky, his co-authors, and his assistant excluded WUWT from the LOG paper data sampling process, and by doing so, created a situation that created a result that confirmed their expectations. This is not a case of hurt feelings or concerns of being left out, quite the contrary, my concern one of data gathering accuracy as it relates to the LOG paper. It seems that they created a confirmation bias by the procedure chosen.
While the LOG team members contacted five pro-AGW and skeptical blogs via an indirect contact method using Dr. Lewandowsky’s assistant, Charles Hanich, with the intent of asking participation in their survey for the purpose of data gathering, the most visited and most widely read climate blog, WUWT, was excluded from the sampling. Neither I nor any of my blog volunteer moderators received any invitation from any of the people associated with the LOG paper.
If the LOG author’s intent was to get a true sample of the climate skeptic community, it would stand to reason that they would want to get a large of a data sample as possible, and a data sample that is truly representative of climate skeptic community they wished to sample.
Disturbingly though, WUWT was not one of the blogs asked to gather a sample by posting a survey, and further, it appears that by the LOG paper lead author’s own admission, very few if any climate skeptic opinions were actually sampled. Comparisons of invitations in online and private discussions reveal that Dr. Lewandowsky personally notified climate activist blogs of his association with the survey in the communications, but concealed his participation from the climate skeptic blogs contacted by having his assistant, Hanich, make the contact.
And, it appears that only two of the climate skeptic blogs contacted even noticed the request from Hanich, let alone ran the requested survey, yet the LOG authors insist they have a valid sample of climate skeptic responses. From my own investigations and the investigations of other interested parties, it appears that only a handful of climate skeptics actually took the survey, and that the bulk of the data samples were comprised of responses of climate action advocacy blogs contacted personally by Dr. Lewandowsky.
Dr. Lewandowsky engaged in active concealment of his involvement with requests to skeptic blogs via Hanich, in violation of UWA academic policy listed in section 2.6.1 of the UWA Code of Conduct for Responsible Research and sections 2.3.1, 2.3.2 and 2.3.4 of the National Statement See: http://www.research.uwa.edu.au/staff/research-policy/guidelines
1. In August 2010, Dr. Lewandowsky actively concealed his association with the survey subsequently reported in LOG “The Moon landing paper” published in Psychological Science from myself and several other bloggers involved. There were options available to him, including disclosure of Dr. Lewandowsky’s association with the survey, in breach of sections 2.3.1(a) and 2.3.1(b).
2. Lewandowsky made false representations to the UWA Ethics Committee in his original application related to his use of active concealment.
3. Following the completion of the survey in 2010, Dr. Lewandowsky did not disclose his association with the survey to me or others he claims to have surveyed, even though requested to do so, which are in breach of sections 2.3.1(e) and 2.3.2(b).
Based on this behavior, I suggest that the LOG sampling was biased by design, with specific intent to create a predetermined outcome, because had the LOG authors contacted WUWT and had we run their survey, or if the other skeptic blogs had noticed and run the request from the unknown Mr. Hanich, I suggest the data sample gathered would very likely not support the premise of their paper.
To test this theory, WUWT replicated and posted the Lewandowsky survey questions for public participation, which you can see here: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/09/08/replication-of-lewandowsky-survey/
1534 samples were gathered, and the data when collated suggests a climate skeptic opinion sample that is in stark contrast to that of the LOG paper. For example, in question 13 which asked:
The following results were obtained from the WUWT sampling:
CYMoon 12 2 14 40 1466
1466 respondents said that statement was “absolutely false” while 12 indicated it was “absolutely true”
Mean: 4.920 Standard Deviation: 0.440
Since this question is central to the conclusion of the LOG paper, how can the LOG authors reconcile their conclusion when this large sample on a climate skeptic blog is contradictory? The LOG paper is currently being circulated as proof of climate skeptics being irrational, believing in conspiracy theories never even discussed on WUWT and other climate skeptic blogs, and believing that the moon landing was faked.
As a result of the LOG paper published in Psychological Science, and the reaction paper (Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation published in Frontiers in Pschology and now withdrawn pending an investigation), I am personally being named in online discussions with such labeling as NI (nefarious intent), PV (persecution-victim complex), NS (nihilistic skepticism), NoA (nothing by accident), MbW (must be wrong) and UCT (unreflexive counterfactual thinking) now on a regular basis. Essentially, the PS publication has given license to libel me and others with claims that our responses make up the claim, when in fact WUWT and other climate skeptic blogs had no input into the data gathering at all.
It was always my understanding that the field of psychology had ethics that prevented the disclosure of diagnoses to named individuals publicly. Did Dr. Lewandowsky obtain some sort of license to assign psychological diagnoses of individuals in absentia, never having gathered data from them or even engaged them in a professional consultation? If this is so, I would like to see documentation where UWA has endorsed such procedures.
I direct your attention to these sections of the Code of Ethics for the American Psychological Association, seen here: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx
Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence
Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons and the welfare of animal subjects of research. When conflicts occur among psychologists’ obligations or concerns, they attempt to resolve these conflicts in a responsible fashion that avoids or minimizes harm. Because psychologists’ scientific and professional judgments and actions may affect the lives of others, they are alert to and guard against personal, financial, social, organizational or political factors that might lead to misuse of their influence. Psychologists strive to be aware of the possible effect of their own physical and mental health on their ability to help those with whom they work.
Principle C: Integrity
Psychologists seek to promote accuracy, honesty and truthfulness in the science, teaching and practice of psychology. In these activities psychologists do not steal, cheat or engage in fraud, subterfuge or intentional misrepresentation of fact. Psychologists strive to keep their promises and to avoid unwise or unclear commitments. In situations in which deception may be ethically justifiable to maximize benefits and minimize harm, psychologists have a serious obligation to consider the need for, the possible consequences of, and their responsibility to correct any resulting mistrust or other harmful effects that arise from the use of such techniques.
I suggest that by the process of active concealment (subterfuge), exclusion of samples that may not support the premise of the LOG paper, and by assigning diagnoses publicly, has willfully breached this code of ethics. Further, in his published online discussions, Dr. Lewandowsky has engaged in what I can only describe as “taunting”. This one, taunting Mr. Steve McIntyre, is just one of many examples in Dr. Lewandowsky’s online forum:
I laud the stirring dedication to investigative Googling. Alas, this highly relevant detective work is far from perfect.
If I am not mistaken, I can indeed confirm that there were 4—not 3—versions of the survey (unless that was the number of my birth certificates, I am never quite sure, so many numbers to keep track of… Mr. McIntyre’s dog misplaced an email under a pastrami sandwich a mere 8.9253077595543363 days ago, and I have grown at least one tail and several new horns over the last few days, all of which are frightfully independent and hard to keep track of).
Finally this new friend from Conspirania is getting some legs.
About time, too, I was getting lonely.
Astute readers will have noted that if the Survey ID’s from above are vertically concatenated and then viewed backwards at 33 rpm, they read “Mitt Romney was born in North Korea.”
To understand the relevance of Mr Romney’s place of birth requires a secret code word. This code word, provided below, ought to be committed to memory before burning this post.
So here it is, the secret code. Read it backwards: gnicnalabretnuoc.
Translations are available in any textbook for Methodology 101.
From my perspective, this is not the behavior of a professional psychologist. Many more examples of this sort of taunting and harassing dialog in response to questions about the LOG paper can be found on Dr. Lewandowsky’s online forum. I direct you to this section of the APA code of ethics:
3.03 Other Harassment
Psychologists do not knowingly engage in behavior that is harassing or demeaning to persons with whom they interact in their work based on factors such as those persons’ age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language or socioeconomic status.
I would also like to point out this section on Informed Consent:
3.10 Informed Consent
(a) When psychologists conduct research or provide assessment, therapy, counseling or consulting services in person or via electronic transmission or other forms of communication, they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or persons except when conducting such activities without consent is mandated by law or governmental regulation or as otherwise provided in this Ethics Code. (See also Standards 8.02, Informed Consent to Research; 9.03, Informed Consent in Assessments; and 10.01, Informed Consent to Therapy.)
By Dr. Lewandowsky’s active concealment of his involvement in the survey, followed by published psychological diagnoses of the climate skeptics he supposedly studied via that survey, I believe that he has failed to obtain “Informed Consent” in his communications.
Regarding the premise of the LOG paper, the idea that I would deny the moon landing took place is ludicrous, especially since I count Dr. Harrison Schmidt, the only scientist (geologist) to walk on the moon amongst my professional friends. I have spoken at conferences with Dr. Schmidt sharing space on the dais with him.
While I’m reasonably certain the LOG authors would be quick to count these suggestions above and below as proof of my belief in “conspiracy theory”, I suggest to you the following has occurred:
1. The data sampling was conducted erratically, with the method of contact almost guaranteeing participation of the friends and acquaintances of Dr. Lewandowsky, while likely excluding climate skeptic blogs.
2. Most data was gathered at climate activist blogs, representing a biased sample consisting mostly of non-skeptics.
3. The LOG questions themselves were so poorly worded, they tended to preclude the few climate skeptics who did encounter the survey from finishing it, further biasing the sample.
4. The resultant data, while known to the LOG authors as being a highly biased sample due to the flawed gathering methodology, was used to gauge the opinions of the minority of climate skeptic participants as being central to the paper.
5. The results are used by the LOG authors as a license to libel myself and others, to paint us with absurd and ludicrous opinions we do not hold.
6. The publication of the LOG paper in Psychological Science has given it a credibility by association, and essentially PS becomes a party to the libel that is now occurring.
7. Legitimate complaints of impropriety and flawed methodology in the LOG paper data gathering process are being held up by the LOG paper authors and others as “proof” of climate skeptics embracing the conclusions of their paper.
8. Multiple willful ethics violations have occurred in Dr. Lewandowsky’s work.
Based on what was published, it seems to me that the Psychological Science journal was unaware of the background and circumstances involved in the data gathering, and it seems clear that these issues were not flagged for scrutiny during the peer review process. Whether this occurred due to non-disclosure by the LOG authors or by flaws in the review process, or both, is unknown to me at this time.
Therefore, given the issue I have described and detailed, I respectfully suggest these accusations and allegations as a result of the LOG paper are untrue, are unsupported by the data gathered, are defamatory and malicious to myself and others, and with the publication in Psychological Science are being used as a justification for the correctness of such claims by Dr. Lewandowsky and others.
As a 25 year veteran of the television and radio media, I am sensitive to the issues associated with libel and slander as it pertains to news stories. Given that the LOG paper has become news in itself, It is my opinion that Psychological Science has enabled such actions by a peer review process that completely missed (or ignored) the gross abuses of ethics and data gathering methodology resulting in a clearly biased data set from which erroneous conclusions were drawn. Those erroneous conclusions are being used to harm the careers and reputations of people that Dr. Lewandowsky has disagreements with. Essentially he is using his position at UWA and the publication in Psychological Science as a tool to denigrate people that he studied. I cannot imagine a more egregious and obscene breach of ethics by a psychologist.
Therefore, I formally request that you investigate my claims, and temporarily retract the LOG paper during the investigation, while considering if permanent retraction is warranted.
Due to the complex timeline of this issue, I reserve the right to amend this complaint as additional issues are discovered and documented. Thank you for your consideration.
Chico, CA, USA
cc: CCH Esq.
Some readers were a bit confused about the date, this all transpired one year ago. Others wondered if I had submitted the same letter to Frontiers in Psychology, and I did, but first I asked them not to share it with Lewandowsky but to investigate independently. They asked me to reconsider my position. So to be clear, I submitted the letter to UWA and Psychological Science as well as Frontiers in Psychology, though I had to wait a couple of days on Frontiers in Psychology regarding their desire to share it with Lewandowsky. Some correspondence on that follows.
It should be noted that I give Frontiers in Psychology high marks for doing what they said they would do. I took them at their word, and this is what I wrote back:
Also, it should be noted that UWA never responded to my complaint, not even with an acknowledgement of receipt as requested, but we now know that they did in fact receive it, and it was published as part of the FOIA documents on DeSmog Blog recently.
Eric Eich, editor at Psychological Science responded with a brief note, see below.
There has been no further communications from the journal since then.