Psychologist Dr. Jose Duarte writes:
The Lewandowsky, Gignac, and Oberauer paper in PLOS ONE has been substantially corrected. I had alerted the journal last fall that there were serious errors in the paper, including the presence of a 32,757-year-old in the data, along with a 5-year-old and six other minors. The paleoparticipant in particular had knocked out the true correlation between age and the conspiracy belief items (the authors had reported there was no correlation between age and anything else.) See my original essay on this paper, what the bad data did to the age correlations, and lots of other issues here.
Deeply troubling issues remain. The authors have been inexplicably unwilling to remove the minors from their data, and have in fact retained two 14-year-olds, two 15-year-olds, a 16-year-old, and a 17-year-old. This is strange given that the sample started with 1,001 participants. It is also wildly unethical.
To provide some context, let me lay out the timeline:
October 4, 2013: Lewandowsky was alerted on his own website that there was a 32,757-year-old and a 5-year-old in his data.
There was no correction. Recall that he had reported analyses of the age variable in the paper, and that these analyses were erroneous because of the 32,757-year-old.
August 18, 2014: On the PLOS ONE page for the paper, I alerted the authors to the 32,757-year-old, the 5-year-old, and the six other minors in their data (along with several other problems with the study.)
There was no correction.
September 22, 2014: I contacted PLOS ONE directly and reported the issue. I had waited over a month for the authors to correct their paper after the notification on August 18, but they had mysteriously done nothing, so it was time to contact the journal.
August 13, 2015: Finally, a correction was published. It is comprehensive, as there were many errors in their analyses beyond the age variable.
I’d like to pause here to say that PLOS ONE is beautiful and ethically distinctive. They insisted that the authors publish a proper correction, and that it thoroughly address the issues and errors in the original. They also placed a link to the correction on top of the original paper. The authors did not want to issue a proper correction. Rather, Lewandowsky preferred to simply post a comment on the PLOS ONE page for the paper and call it a corrigendum. This would not have been salient to people reading the paper on the PLOS ONE page, as it requires that one click on the Comments link and go into the threads. Notably, Lewandowsky’s “corrigendum” was erroneous and required a corrigendum of its own… It was also remarkably vague and uninformative.
A serious ethical issue remains – they kept the minors in their data (except the 5-year-old.) They had no prior IRB approval to use minors, nor did they have prior IRB approval to waive parental consent. In fact, the “ethics” office at the University of Western Australia appears to be trying to retroactively approve the use of minors as well as ignoring the issue of parental consent. This is ethically impossible, and wildly out of step with human research ethics worldwide. It also cleanly contradicts the provisions of the Australian National Statement on Ethical Conduct of Human Research (PDF). In particular, it contradicts paragraphs 4.2.7 through 4.2.10, and 4.2.12. The conduct of the UWA ethics office is consistent with all their prior efforts to cover up Lewandowsky’s misconduct, particularly with respect to Lewandowsky’s Psych Science paper, which should be treated as a fraud case. UWA has refused everyone’s data requests for that paper, and has refused to investigate. Corruption is serious problem with human institutions, one that I increasingly think deserves a social science Manhattan Project to better understand and ameliorate. UWA is a classic case of corruption, one that mirrors those reported by Martin.
Here is the critical paragraph regarding minors in the PLOS ONE correction:
“Several minors (age 14–17) were included in the data set for this study because this population contributes to public opinions on politics and scientific issues (e.g. in the classroom). This project was conducted under the guidelines of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC). According to NH&MRC there is no explicit minimum age at which people can give informed consent (as per https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/book/chapter-2-2-general-requirements-consent). What is required instead is to ascertain the young person’s competence to give informed consent. In our study, competence to give consent is evident from the fact that for a young person to be included in our study, they had to be a vetted member of a nationally representative survey panel run by uSamp.com (partner of Qualtrics.com, who collected the data). According to information received from the panel provider, they are legally empowered to empanel people as young as 13. However, young people under 15 are recruited to the panel with parental involvement. Parental consent was otherwise not required. Moreover, for survey respondents to have been included in the primary data set, they were required to answer an attention filter question correctly, further attesting to their competence to give informed consent. The UWA Human Rights Ethics Committee reviewed this issue and affirmed that “The project was undertaken in a manner that is consistent with the Australian National Statement of Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007).”
The above may be difficult for people to parse and unpack. Here are the essentials we can extract from it:
1. There was no prior IRB approval for the use of minors. (UWA’s review was retroactive, amazingly.)
2. Parental consent was not obtained for minors who were at least 15 years of age.
3. Obtaining parental consent for 13 and 14-year-olds was delegated to a market research company. However, the term “consent” is not used in this case. Rather, the authors claim that the market research company recruited these kids with “parental involvement”. It’s not clear what this term means.
4. The UWA “ethics” committee is attempting to grant retroactive approval for the use of minors and the lack of parental consent, as well as the delegation of consent obtainment to a market research company. They cite the National Statement of (sic) Ethical Conduct in Human Research, even though it contains no provision for retroactive approvals or cover-ups. In fact, the Statement does not contemplate such absurdities at all.
At this point, I think PLOS ONE should just retract the paper. We can’t have unapproved – or retroactively approved – minors in data. UWA is clearly engaged in a cover-up, and their guidance should not inform PLOS ONE‘s, or any journal’s, decisions. This exposes a major structural ethical vulnerability we have in science – we rely on institutions with profound conflicts of interest to investigate themselves, to investigate their own researchers. We have broad evidence that they often attempt to cover up malpractice, though the percentages are unclear. Journals need to fashion their own processes, and rely much less on university “finders of fact”. We should also think about provisioning independent investigators. The standards in academic science are much lower than in the private sector (I used to help companies comply with Sarbanes-Oxley.) In any case, UWA’s conduct deserves to be be escalated and widely exposed, and it will be. This is far from over – we can’t ignore the severity of the ethical breaches here, and we won’t.
Read all about it here at his blog: http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/minors-lewandowsky-and-ceremonial-ethics
It seems that nothing is too ethically slimy for Lewandowsky and company, especially when the University of Western Australia backs up his lack of ethical standards.
Barry Woods adds in comments there (at Duarte’s blog):
from the Results section of:
NASA faked the Moon Landing, therefore [climate] science is a hoax – Lewandowsky et al, Psychological Science [LOG12} http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/5/622
“An additional 161 responses were eliminated because the respondent’s age was implausible (< 10 or > 95 years old), values for the consensus items were outside the range of the rating scale, or responses were incomplete. This left 1,145 complete records for analysis.” – LOG12
– being 11 years old is of course ‘plausible’ (/sarc) and/or appropriate (sarc) or any 11-17 non adults for that matter. How many 11-17 year olds were in the LOG12 data, we don’t know, the authors and UWA refuse to release the data.
So how many 11 to 17 year olds were there in the data, we know from PLOS One that two 14 year olds that believed in Moon Hoax conspiracy were included in the PLOS One data set..
Did one or [two] minors contribute to the headline of the paper, or the other conspiracy theories that had tiny numbers of believers (not to say 3 adults gives him any justification for the papers titular conclusions.)
oh we don’t know, because age and gender (and other responses,-Iraq War, lifestyle and metadata data) is redacted from Lew’s dataset. and University of Western Australia refuses to release the full dataset for LOG12, and Psychological Science refuses to do anything about it..
Thanks for all your effort, it really shouldn’t have been necessary.
I actually really believed when UWA refused to release the data for Moon Hoax, that Erich Eich might actually do something.. sadly I was mistaken.
So, it seems the issues with minor in the data go all the way back to Lewandowsky’s original “Moon Landing Hoax” paper. Those that wish to
contact the journal editor, professor Erich Eich to alert him of this issue of minors in the data, may do so at his university web page: http://psych.ubc.ca/persons/eric-eich/ See Note 3 below.
If you do, please be professional and respectful. Argue the issue from an ethics and policy standpoint. There is a plethora of ethical issues in the many postings on Lewandowsky’s shoddy techniques here you can bring up.
As far as the journal run by the Association for Psychological Science, they have this guideline:
Authors reporting research involving human subjects should indicate whether the protocol was approved by an institutional review board or similar committee and whether it was carried out in accordance with the provisions of the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki (available here). Authors reporting research involving nonhuman animal subjects should indicate whether institutional and national guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals were followed.
The APS journals follow the code of conduct of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and follow COPE guidelines when misconduct is suspected or alleged.
if you choose to contact them here, please point out the issues in a professional and respectful way.
Note: This essay was originally published with an error about the paper name in the title, it has since been corrected to add the proper name “Conspiracist Ideation” rather than just the “Moon landing hoax” paper, which is apparently the source of the data in the paper published at PLOS one.
Note 2: Correction: Jose Duarte is a PhD candidate.
Note 3: It appears according to this page at Psychological Science that Erich Eich is no longer editor of Psychological Science as of July 1st 2015, but D. Stephen Lindsay is now the interim chief editor. One wonders if the the imbroglio over Lewandowsky in the past months might have been a factor. You can contact him here: http://www.uvic.ca/socialsciences/psychology/people/faculty-directory/lindsaysteve.php if you contact him, please point out the issues in a professional and respectful way.