Frontiers fires back again on the hype surrounding Lewandowsky's retracted Recursive Fury paper

Readers may recall some ethics objections I raised in my complaint letter to UWA and Psychological Science, and also sent to Frontiers. It seems Frontiers agrees.

This statement was posted on their website today:

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Rights of Human Subjects in Scientific Papers

The retracted Recursive Fury paper has created quite a blogger and twitter storm. A sensational storm indeed, with hints to conspiracy theories, claims of legal threats and perceived contradictions. It has been fury – one of the strongest human emotions – that has (perhaps understandably at first sight) guided the discussion around this retraction. Not surprisingly though, the truth is not as sensational and much simpler.

The studied subjects were explicitly identified in the paper without their consent. It is well acknowledged and accepted that in order to protect a subject’s rights and avoid a potentially defamatory outcome, one must obtain the subject’s consent if they can be identified in a scientific paper. The mistake was detected after publication, and the authors and Frontiers worked hard together for several months to try to find a solution. In the end, those efforts were not successful. The identity of the subjects could not be protected and the paper had to be retracted. Frontiers then worked closely with the authors on a mutually agreed and measured retraction statement to avoid the retraction itself being misused. From the storm this has created, it would seem we did not succeed.

For Frontiers, publishing the identities of human subjects without consent cannot be justified in a scientific paper. Some have argued that the subjects and their statements were in the public domain and hence it was acceptable to identify them in a scientific paper, but accepting this will set a dangerous precedent. With so much information of each of us in the public domain, think of a situation where scientists use, for example, machine learning to cluster your public statements and attribute to you personality characteristics, and then name you on the cluster and publish it as a scientific fact in a reputable journal. While the subjects and their statements were public, they did not give their consent to a public psychological diagnosis in a scientific study. Science cannot be abused to specifically label and point out individuals in the public domain.

It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization. But the importance of the subject matter does not justify abandoning our principles.

Frontiers’ core mission is to improve peer review. One principle that we follow is that scientific publishing should sit in the hands of scientists. Frontiers implements this principle by supporting scientists to operate the peer-review process from the beginning to the end. Frontiers remains faithful to this mission, despite the risks that comes with it. We will stay the course because we fundamentally believe that authors should bear the full responsibility of submitting papers with the highest standards and that scientists should bear the full responsibility of deciding what science is published. After publication, the community is engaged and a post-publication review naturally follows. Post-publication review is facilitated by the Frontiers’ commenting and social networking platforms. This process may reveal fundamental errors or issues that go against principles of scholarly publishing. Like all other journals, Frontiers seriously investigates any well-founded complaints or allegations, and retraction only happens in cases of absolute necessity and only after extensive analysis. For the paper in question, the issue was clear, the analysis was exhaustive, all efforts were made to work with the authors to find a solution and we even worked on the retraction statement with the authors. But there was no moral dilemma from the start – we do not support scientific publications where human subjects can be identified without their consent.

Henry Markram

Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers

Source:

http://www.frontiersin.org/blog/Rights_of_Human_Subjects_in_Scientific_Papers/830

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So Frontiers claims to be a qualified authority on climate change and declares it to be a big danger. Perhaps if they knew that climate change is no longer around, they would have a different opinion. Probably not. They go where the grant money goes.

ddpalmer

I would like to congratulate Mr. Markam and ‘Frontiers’ for taking a well justified and ethical position, AND then standing behind that position. If more journals and scientists display such adherence to the truth and ethics (in all areas, not just climate science) the world would be a better place.

geronimo

So Lewandowsky knew why Frontiers retracted the paper but failed to tell his friends at SkS who then told the world they’d been withdrawn because of threats of legal action. Nice man, nice people.

Generic Geologist

Meh… they lost me at : “It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization.”
Whether the topic is climate change or the mating habits of the Slovenian Three-toed tree lemming is irrelevant. The larger issue was that Lewandowsky tried to ramrod a paper through that was poorly conceived and unethical.

Taphonomic

Frontiers writes: “…the importance of the subject matter does not justify abandoning our principles.”
Lew, Dana, McKewon, Mann, et al. disagree.
(On the other hand you have to have some principles before you can abandon them.)

chris y

“Science cannot be abused to specifically label and point out individuals in the public domain.”
Fortunately, since catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is not science, it is in no danger of violating this position.
🙂

commieBob

“But there was no moral dilemma from the start – we do not support scientific publications where human subjects can be identified without their consent.”
Good point! I assume UWA has an ethics committee, how did this get past them?

John

Frontiers certainly got one of the primary issues right. And congrats to them, even if it is for simply following their ethical guidelines. That might not sound like much, but it seems that a lot of folks don’t follow their guidelines these days.
But from Steve McIntyre and others have found, the actual research was both deceptive and wrong (they seem to have gotten lots of their conspiracy stuff from climate friendly websites). The original paper is still up at Western Australia U.
How do we get a full investigation of the way the paper was done? With the paper still up, there are going to be plenty of people still thinking that people who don’t agree with the IPCC and our President might be wacko.
Unless the paper is investigated in an open forum by reputable people, I don’t know how this will change. Perhaps only Australia can now do this?

philincalifornia

It would help if they would specify if they’re talking about actual climate change or bogus climate change for the reader to decide whether or not to take them seriously.

Frontiers apparently had no problem with the fact that the paper was a survey conducted by
a person clearly antagonistic towards his subjects and who clearly selected them in a fashion inconsistent with his announced intent.

Greg

Very clear and honest position. h/t to Frontiers for their integrity on this.
It is clearly unacceptable to use the scientific literature to slag off your political opponents.
None of this paper was about science , it was a pretence and a farce, whose primary aim was defamation.
I’m sure that Frontiers will be quietly asking themselves why this did not get picked up and thrown out during review process.
” It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization. ”
Well they got that wrong but then they’re psychology journal not a physical science journal.
The truth is , if it was not “around climate change” it would never have been written because the aim of this paper was everything about the politics of climate and nothing about psychology.
Perhaps they will be more circumspect next time Lew tries to sneak gutter snipe into their journal.

timg56

RE: Generic Geologist ‘s reference to Slovenian Three-toed tree lemmings.
Ain’t no such creature. It is poor form to insinuate that non-existent creatures are part of Slovenia’s ecology. Now, had you referenced three-toed woodpecker’s, you would have been on sound scirntific ground.

chris y

“Frontiers’ core mission is to improve peer review.”
Interesting. One of the reviewers of Lewandowsky’s paper was a journalism graduate student.
Does the Journal consider this choice to be an improvement over peer review found in other journals?
Or, does the Journal consider this choice to be an improvement in matching the expertise of the reviewing peer to the expertise of the researcher?
🙂

Scorp1us

“With so much information of each of us in the public domain, think of a situation where scientists use, for example, machine learning to cluster your public statements and attribute to you personality characteristics, and then name you on the cluster and publish it as a scientific fact in a reputable journal.”
This is what the NSA is doing with our meta data. Though, the “reputable journals” are all secret government lists.

Speed

It has been fury – one of the strongest human emotions …
Fury is an emotion?

Gary

“Frontiers’ core mission is to improve peer review.”

Huh? How are they doing this? This episode may have alerted the editors to be more scrupulous when publishing by making sure some ethical rules are followed, but how does this improve peer review? This statement is mere hand-waving. Improving peer review would involve developing a rigorous process to check data, references, analysis methods, and statistical tests of submitted papers. It would involve developing a stable of reviewers without ties to the author(s) or sympathies biased toward conclusions. It would involve review procedures that are open and transparent to third parties. It would involve guidelines for criticisms and suggesting improvements of submissions.
If Frontiers is really means what it said, then let’s see the plan for doing these things.

timg56

I am still having trouble understanding how either the Fury or Moon Hoax paper could possibly be considered as being of sufficient scientific quality to deserve publication in the first place, regardless of any ethical issues.

Alan the Brit

Well, I know there are risks & risks & all that, as a humble structural engineer I am well aware of risk. However, psychiatrists & psychologists who go around pronouncing this fruit loop or that nut job is fit to re-enter society, where they commit yet another rape, violent assault, murder, & some ordinary decent citizen is deprived of their liberty either temporarily, or worse, permanently, are a law unto themselves. IMHO, they frequently get it wrong more often than they get it right. My daughter’s boyfriend’s father suffered from mental problems for many years, they got worse after he divorced the mother. He suffered from long bouts of depression, & had attempted suicide twice. A few years ago, he became ill once again, this time being sectioned under the UK mental health act. His son & daughter both visited him regularly. On several occasions the father talked of knowing exactly how to behave like a perfect patient to enable him to gain his freedom, & thus kill himself at will. He never really improved, but the son & daughter reported these conversations to the psychiatrists every time it was mentioned by the father that he knew exactly how to behave. The “experts” just told the son & daughter that their father was responding well to treatment & counselling, totally ignoring the pleas from the two children, eventually informing them that they were considering releasing the father back into the community as he was no longer deemed at risk, by the “experts”. Despite being told by the two offspring repeatedly what the father said, they were so “expert” they totally disregarded them. The father was released in the following month after 9 weeks detention. He was dead within the week, the time, place, & means were all pre-planned whilst still detained as it turned out, the “experts” had no idea! The inquest almost a year later took a rather dim view of the experts! Just an observation, that’s all, & a rather costly one at that!

Jimbo

The mistake was detected after publication, and the authors and Frontiers worked hard together for several months to try to find a solution. In the end, those efforts were not successful. The identity of the subjects could not be protected and the paper had to be retracted.

A solution could not be found because the authors WANTED the identities of the subjects to be known. It was a smear paper aimed at shutting down the debate and discouraging people from being sceptical. The problem is you would be smearing a large number of the population who are sick to death of the climate con job.
Why can’t someone be sceptical about the projected high range of warming from the IPCC without being called names? 1.5C is as good as 4C, nobody has a damned idea what the temperature will be in 2100. If nobody knows then there is a debate and doubts are fair game. Just look at the failed projections of the previous IPCC reports, not good.

Bloke down the pub

Col Mosby says:
April 11, 2014 at 8:32 am
And
Generic Geologist says:
April 11, 2014 at 8:36 am
Meh… they lost me at : “It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization.”
Well they did say it was a threat. I, for example, could make a threat to nuke Tehran, but seeing as I don’t possess a nuclear weapon the threat would be hollow. There is a threat of climate change, but on inspection that too turns out to have little validity.

Ken Hall

Nothing about the fact that the actual diagnosis was utterly false and created from a fraudulent process of pre-loading due to sending the questionnaire to alarmist blogs in order to create the pre-designed outcome and a refusal of the researchers to share that data then?
It was shoddy anti-scientific work from start to finish and this “ethical” get out, although true, is being used as a “get out of jail” card for the publishers, so that they can avoid the real issue of corrupt and fraudulent “science” being used to wrongly attack the mental state climate realists and to lie and mislead.

Jimbo

For Frontiers, publishing the identities of human subjects without consent cannot be justified in a scientific paper.

Do they do peer review? You published this crap so why were you asleep on the job?

Science cannot be abused to specifically label and point out individuals in the public domain.

That’s what Lew did and that’s what he wanted.

It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization.

They take this claim as given, yet they wanted us to take the Lew paper as given since they published the crap. Scepticism worked on Lew. Think about that.

rogerknights

There’s a saying, “What’s shocking about DC isn’t what goes on that’s illegal, but what goes on that’s legal.” “Fury” is “illegal,” but what’s shocking is that “Moon Hoax” is legal.

Another nail in Looney Lewey’s coffin. I suspect he is going to have to hire his own shrink before this plays completely out.
He (and nuts like Nuccy) are displaying classic symptoms of conspiracy ideation and paranoid delusion.

Mike Ozanne

“e do not support scientific publications where human subjects can be identified without their consent.
Henry Markram
Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers”
Kudos

Keith W.

rogerknights
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/04/11/frontiers-fires-back-again-on-the-hype-surrounding-lewandowskys-retracted-recursive-fury-paper/#comment-1610787
Moon Hoax was not published in Frontiers, so the editors of Frontiers have no basis to address it. That is up to the editors at Psychological Science.

pokerguy

“It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization.”
I still don’t see this as much of a victory. It’s clear enough they’re standing behind the paper’s conclusions. In effect they’re saying, yes indeed, these people are indeed nut jobs. The mistake we made was in allowing them to be named.

schitzree

Some will undoubtedly object to frontiers statement about global warming. I do not, becouse regardless of their belief they were not willing to sacrifice their morals for the ‘Cause’. If only the real climate scientists were so honest.

RickA

I respect the editor-in-chief of Frontiers (Henry Markram) for standing by the retraction of this terrible paper.
The grounds now appear to be both on the legal front (defamation) and the ethical front (diagnosing an individuals condition in a journal paper without their consent) or perhaps even a mix of both.
We have yet to hear about any academic grounds – which they assert they investigated.
It sounds like a lot of people want to learn what the results of their academic review were (I know I do).
Aside from the ethical and legal problems this paper had – I think it was terrible from an academic perspective.
Their sample was messed up, they treated some sites differently than others, they may have allowed fake responses and duplicate responses, and their categorization was biased. I hope that all of the people trying to get the metadata keep trying – because I am anxiously awaiting an analysis of the methodology behind what looks to be a piece of crap paper.
It seems to me that the paper should have been retracted on all three grounds – ethical issues, legal issues and academic issues.
I am sure more will come out on the academic issues over time and I am looking forward to reading about it.

Harry Passfield

“Frontiers’ core mission is to improve peer review.”

How? Do they consider Emily McKeown is a means to this end? Sheesh.

Generic Geologist

schitzree says:
Some will undoubtedly object to frontiers statement about global warming. I do not, becouse regardless of their belief they were not willing to sacrifice their morals for the ‘Cause’. If only the real climate scientists were so honest.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Valid point, but there was no need to reference the issue at all. The AGW mention is a back handed hat-tip acknowledgement that although LEW’s data, methods and ethics were a shambles and unacceptable, his “heart” was in the right place. Utter garbage.

Old Hoya

These kinds of problems will not occur during Obama’s third term because officially insane people like Anthony Watts will no longer have standing to complain about the diagnosis and start this kind of trouble.
REPLY: You forgot the /sarc tag though it goes without saying- Anthony

John West

If the “cosensus” is so well established why would such “tricks” be necessary and why do so many condone their usage?

Mark Bofill

Don’t be too hard on Lew. It’s probably difficult for him to think of deniers as human subjects, this was the sort of mistake one would expect him to make.
/sarc.

Richard martin MD

The important point is that the Frontiers people stuck to proper ethical and proceduralprinciples of scientific investigation. The grown up response is to respect them for that.
Rick

Brent Hargreaves

If only he’d written “the Global Warming hoax is a very serious threat to Western civilization”.

Praise to Frontiers, yes, but they fall into the same trap with their climate change assertion that a person does when declaring, “we need to do something about the proliferation of ghosts”. Both are based on a false premise out of the gate.
Skeptic scientists questioned AGW, so an industry of ‘Skeptic-Trashing Environmental Sociologists’ (enslaved to a false accusation, I should add http://gelbspanfiles.com/?p=1237 ) popped up to stop the skeptics by any means possible. Ironic that Lew et. al would put out such material as scientific studies considering how anti-science their position is on marginalizing one entire side of the climate science assessments.

rokshox

I note that the desire to use ridicule against political opponents is so strong with the academic Left (see Alinsky, Rule 5), that Lew and crew were unwilling to concede the issue. Likely because it would have set a dangerous precedent obstructing a key tool they use to expand their power and control.

CEH

Looks like UWA is not going to take down this paper, instead they say: “The article is now hosted on a website of the University of Western Australia, which has come to a different assessment of the risk posed by this article and reaffirms its commitment to academic freedom. Further details about the history of this article and continued attempts to supress inconvenient science con be found at sks.to/rf.”
Link to the paper below.
http://www.psychology.uwa.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/2523540/LskyetalRecursiveFury4UWA.pdf
This is noting but disgusting.

son of mulder

Did the chappie who resigned from Frontiers resign because they were following ethical standards?

brians356

Echoes of “Rathergate” (“Fake, but accurate.”). They were so eager to publish a pro-AGW piece they giddily chucked any standards they may have possessed. But there could be a silver lining – if other ancillary journals and journalists now take a closer look at the slimy yellow underbelly of the warmist’s “scientific method.”

Louis

“But the importance of the subject matter does not justify abandoning our principles.”

However, it is also clear that the pressure to do so is building. It will be interesting to see how far the alarmists will go to force Frontiers to abandon their principles. They have already succeeded in getting the BBC, the Guardian, the LA Times, and many other media outlets to abandon the principle of fairly reporting opposing viewpoints when reporting on climate change. How long can Frontiers resist the pressure to also make an exception for climate change?
In the category of things caused by global warming, perhaps the line “Causes otherwise reputable science magazines and media outlets to abandon long-held publishing principles” should be added to the list. When the end justifies any and all means, there is no longer any room for principles.

Rob Dawg

Bravo to Frontiers for seeing the issue and taking a stand on ethics. We are often defined by such difficult decisions. I see two consequences. First, the sloppy research demonstrated by Lew, et al will be harder to pass of as science. Second, the quality of data collected under these conditions will be much higher. Win.

Aphan

Harry
I think you meant Elaine McKewon…..?

Toto

Frontiers’ core mission is to improve peer review. One principle that we follow is that scientific publishing should sit in the hands of scientists. Frontiers implements this principle by supporting scientists to operate the peer-review process from the beginning to the end.

That is Quote of the Day material, in the Spin Factory category. Gold Star, kiddies.
They do make one serious mistake — they think the “end” of peer-review is publication. That is actually just the beginning of the real peer-review. They have a lot to learn.

timothy sorenson

@Col A flat earthier could, possibly ,write and excellent article on gravitation, or a pharmaceutical researcher could write a paper about the wonders of a drug: it is the conflict of interest statement that should address this. It is not morally right to gag them.
Looking at it from all sides, weighting the benefits and the damages, Frontiers has made skeptics position better.

Chuck L

Looking forward to the responses of Lew and his cronies, I suspect that they will dig the hole they are in even deeper

dp

Dangerous climate change is definitely a threat to all living things and the future of the yet to be born. Fortunately that kind of climate change is not something we’re facing today or in the immediate future. The natural variability of the Holocene we witness today is simply what it is and all existing species have adapted to the inter-glacial climate we were plunged into at the end of the Pleistocene. Well done, all, for a successful transition and best wishes to those who are left to deal with the end of the current inter-glacial period of the Holocene. Hopefully that end won’t come because of uninformed climate manipulation by noble cause driven empty headed green alarmists.

CEH

Sorry for the typos “con” should be “can” and “noting” should be “nothing”, brain and finger connection……

I don’t think they get points for ethics on this. Before, they had left open the possibility that they recognized their own unethical behavior in allowing the publication through. Now they have removed that aspect.