Recursive Fury Update

Brian Angliss has an interesting summary of the bizarre “Recursive Fury” Lewandowski et al saga here.

He claims:

The SLAPP-like nature of this entire episode sets a very dangerous precedent. It tells anyone who dislikes or disbelieves the results of a scientific study that publishers may be intimidated via legal-sounding threats into retracting studies. While this tactic is unlikely to be successful against major publishers, smaller scientific publishers may well be intimidated if there are a large number of complaints (each of which might need to be defended against individually) or if the complaints are made by individuals or organizations with significant financial backing. While there is no evidence at this point that there was deliberate collusion among Frontiers’ critics, the fact that an informal group of critics was able to force the retraction of an ethically and academically sound study will embolden others to turn this into a legal tactic against research they disagree with.

The silver lining is that the somewhat limited success of the tactic depended to some extent on what is regarded as excessive leniency toward plaintiffs in British libel law that has since been somewhat mitigated.

I think it is reasonable to view Recursive Fury as somewhat transgressive of norms. But then again, these are norms that the denial phenomenon thrives on by their abuse. So the problem is even more recursive than is apparent. What we really are discussing is how to repair discourse under conditions where the norms of discourse are abused to prevent actual progress. It’s hard to know how to do that.

Whether this particular approach is suitable for a psychology article, even in a journal with “frontiers” in its title, can be debated. What is not debatable is that the journal and the university identified no actual ethics violations. Under these conditions the retreat of the journal is very unfortunate.

Brian also points to important articles elsewhere (outside the bunkosphere) on the subject:

Again, here is Stephan’s own discussion of the events. Also Greg Laden has an interesting posting.


  1. Thanks for pointing out the revolving door:

    "transgressive of norms. But ...[denial] thrives on their abuse. ... how to repair discourse under conditions where the norms of discourse are abused to prevent actual progress."

    The constant drumming on phony skeptic themes is legerdemain.

    I was saddened by the doomy tone of comments on Gillis's NYTimes on the new IPCC report. Many too many people are convinced it's too late. I am coming around to the view that this is the latest excuse and at this point adds to the maelstrom of inaction. Note, however, complicit consumers and active industry have created a problem which is active rather than passive. No emotion is going to remove a single greenhouse gas from the equation.

  2. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, March 30, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  3. Susan, commenters are not a random sample. My observation is that too many people are only vaguely aware if at all that there has been another IPCC report. I brought up the new report with a large number of Community college students at their Earth Day event. They didn't know anything about it, even though they were more "environmentally aware" than average I think.

    And still there's this.

  4. Frontiers just announced that they pulled the paper, citing Lewandowsky's ethical lapses regarding confidentiality. Frontiers emphasized that the paper was about psychology, not climate change.

    As I have been writing for more than a year, ethical social science does not reveal the identities of research subjects or respondents. Lewandowsky did.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.