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