Ugo Bardi Resigns as Chief Topic Editor over Journal’s Conduct in Lewandowski et al Retraction (UPDATES)

Our friend and contributor Ugo Bardi has resigned as Chief Specialty Editor of Energy Systems and Policy of the Frontiers Journal in protest against the behavior of the journal in the “Recursive Fury” case. He writes

It is becoming commonplace for scientists to receive personal attacks (including death threats) for having stated their position on the climate problem. This violent reaction often takes the shape of mailing campaigns directed to the institutions of the targeted scientists. There are many examples of this phenomenon; it will suffice, here, to cite the most recent case; that of Professor Lawrence Torcello who recently was the target of an abusive hate campaign, based on the false claim that he had proposed to jail climate skeptics. Fortunately, Torcello’s institution (Rochester Institute of Technology) stood for freedom of expression. In other similar cases universities stood by the rights of their faculty members. They did exactly what Frontiers did not do (but should have done) for the paper by Lewandowsky et al. 

The climate of intimidation which is developing nowadays risks to do great damage to climate science and to science in general. I believe that the situation risks to deteriorate further if we all don’t take a strong stance on this issue. Hence, I am taking the strongest action I can take, that is I am resigning from “Chief Specialty Editor” of Frontiers in protest against the behavior of the journal in the “Recursive Fury” case. I sent to the editors a letter today, stating my intention to resign.

Updates: two more editors have resigned. Graham Redfearn at DeSmog has the latest.

Comments:

  1. Pingback: Rowing, and some other stuff – Stoat

  2. My understanding of the retraction of the article is that the article made reference to individuals under study in such a way that it can be determined who they were. That is supposed to be a no-no in psychology papers. Does Ugo Bardi disagree that the paper did this or does he think that it is OK to do such a thing?

    • Stephan makes the case that what was under study was text, not individuals.

      Ugo's claim is not whether that is or isn't a sound defense. It is that the behavior of the journal was clearly unfair to the authors and the reviewers and cowardly.

      It is one thing to argue that they should not have approved the paper, though I agree that it is a marginal case either way. But having done so they need extraordinary grounds to retract it. Furthermore, their explanations have been inconsistent and unconvincing.

      Science bowing to intimidation is not science.

  3. "Frontiers in Psychology"
    -- by Horatio Algeranon

    I study text, not folks:
    Psychology today.
    I study blogs, not blokes.
    What more is there to say?

  4. from: http://retractionwatch.com/2014/04/09/chief-specialty-editor-resigns-from-frontiers-in-wake-of-controversial-retraction/#more-19736

    Meanwhile, Frontiers editorial director Costanza Zucca responded to a request for comment we placed last week about the apparent contradiction between the retraction notice and a later statement by the journal. The former said that the journal “did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study,” while the latter said the paper “did not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects."

    Zucca said: "There is no contradiction between the two statements. The reference to ethical considerations in the original retraction statement is a reference to the ethical clearance for conducting the study given by UWA. The issue was not with the study as such, but with how the paper was written. The paper made it possible to explicitly identify subjects. Frontiers stands by its decision to retract the article, which it considers to have been the right and responsible course of action."

    • "The paper made it possible to explicitly identify subjects" is incorrect within the meaning of "subjects" used by ethical review boards. I liked @neuroskeptic's response:

      I’m going to write this up for Frontiers in Zoology: I think I’ve identified a new species of weasel.

      The main issue, again, is NOT whether the paper should or shouldn't have been published in the first place or as revised. The question IS whether the journal has behaved responsibly; the details of the story indicate that it did not.

  5. But, Michael, that's just clever name-calling ("weasel"). What details are you referring to that demonstrate the Journal's irresponsibility? And what, exactly, is incorrect within the meaning of "subjects"? Do you mean the paper made it possible to explicitly identify people, but that they were not actually "subjects"? Or that those people, however one might characterize them, could not be identified? I thought it was about argument here, rather than simple ad homs. The latter are fun, to be sure, but hard to learn from.

    • Well, in the US it goes like this:

      A human subject is a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains

      • - Data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or
      • - Identifiable private information.

      The data was collected from public sources. Thus neither the interaction nor the privacy condition applies.

      Thus, indeed for the purposes at hand they were not actually "subjects", at least if rules similar to those in America apply.

      Further, it would appear to me contrary to the spirit of free speech and academic inquiry if one needed permission to analyze public statements in academic papers. Indeed, how would one respond to faulty research without violating such a protocol?

      Claims to the contrary are political posturing, as far as I can tell. No gander would tolerate anything of the sort to be applied by any goose.

      • You don't understand the principle. It does not matter if it is secondary research of people who have written on a subject. It really doesn't matter.

        As you can see from the objections of those named, they feel harmed by being characterized by Lewandowsky. All social science journals and institutions, and especially those in the field of Psychology, are deeply concerned that if a subject of research is categorized in a way that the subject deems harmful, it will not only damage the subject (and introduce liability on the part of the institution or journal) but decrease the willingness of others to participate in future research.

        That is exactly why the guidelines forbid this.

        Lewandowsky knew this and went out of his way to conceal what he was doing. What he did was really, really wrong.

      • Is art criticism forbidden? It can sometimes be very hurtful to the poor artist (e.g. author). http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tod_eines_Kritikers

    • Yep, you know who is apparently threatening to sue because you know whose public language was being tested for conspiracist ideation. That's the whole issue.

      • Wow. There's a rather fashionable growing trend to analyse twitter data at the moment; every academic dept around here's trying to get in on it (notwithstanding the fact it's kinda useless as social data...) That's a LOT of public statements, they'd better watch out!

  6. Thanks, Michael, and could I trouble you for a pointer to the rules you cited?

    So is the issue then whether those U.S. rules apply? Is Frontiers absolutely mistaken in its interpretation of what it believes a "subject" to be or only in so far as the U.S. rules pertain? Are its [presumably Swiss] lawyers involved in determining what/whose rules apply or do you believe its editors are acting on their own?

    Also, earlier I think you referred to the paper as more or less a stunt, though I could be remembering that incorrectly. If so, do you still believe that, or do you think it's a paper that, while retracted for the moment rightly or wrongly, should be published elsewhere on its merits and join the ranks of legitimate peer-reviewed scholarship?

    • If so, do you still believe that, or do you think it's a paper that, while retracted for the moment rightly or wrongly, should be published elsewhere on its merits and join the ranks of legitimate peer-reviewed scholarship?

      This is a good question, and leads me down the rabbit hole of whether the way we do peer review nowadays isn't totally archaic. It seems to be largely based on the cost and scarcity of actual ink and paper.

      Again, I think Stephan is one of the keenest observers of the human condition around. I think his observation to the effect that:

      LOG12 represents an outlier compared to other papers on the same topic, especially when considering that LOG12 only received public attention in late August 2012. Thus, less than two months elapsed between its release and the data summarized in Table 2, which represent a snapshot during October 2012. It is particularly notable that unlike any of the other papers, LOG12 engendered at least 10 recursive hypotheses during that two-month period.

      is unquestionably the result of considerable research activity and unquestionably important. I would certainly, therefore, hope that it would be published somewhere.

      RF doesn't address whether any of these theories holds water. But the very existence of no less than ten mutually incoherent conspiracy-flavored critiques of the original paper definitely constitutes evidence of conspiracist ideation in the bunkosphere.

      To me, the question is whether the peer reviewed literature is aimed at a conversation among academics (among whom the pernicious nature of the anti-climate blogs is well known) or at a conversation with the journalistic community, the policy sector, and the general public. I find that it isn't especially suited for purpose for the latter.

      The question at hand is whether a given observation constitutes legitimate research suitable for peer review, not whether it is true nor whether it is suitable for public discourse. I'm a bit queasy about the first proposition, but the observation seems entirely valid and ethical; indeed the balance of the ethical burden would require its being made public rather than swept under a rug.

      The question of whether this should have been done under the rubric of science and submitted for academic credit is the only one that is at issue here. On that, I'm pleased to note, I'm unlikely to be consulted in practice. It does feel like a bit of stunt to get it into a journal. But it's still true.

  7. "The Lewandowsky Zoo"
    -- by Horatio Algeranon

    Weasel and kangaroo
    Skunk and rabbit too
    There's really quite a few
    In Lewandowsky's zoo

  8. Thanks, Michael, for that thoughtful reply. Ethics aside, my take on the paper is different than yours, and it's no doubt due to my views on climate change generally. Conspiracy theories more or less drive me crazy, and yet I suppose Dr. Lewandowsky would want to put me into a study group of "deniers" given that I still question much of the modeled theory and the unsolved problems presented by the hiatus. Presumably, I and others would simply end up in a subset of deniers who do not fancy conspiracies -- who can be driven crazy by the anti-vaccination or 9/11 business, for instance -- and yet still question at least part of the AGW ethos.

    I see conspiracy types on both sides of the coin -- John Mashey's conspiracy theories come to mind, though I imagine there are better examples. I am no Lewandowsky, though, and wouldn't be even remotely interested to discover how much conspiracy ideation attaches to what I'll call mainstream climate thinking. I would suppose it to be about the same ideation you'd find in the population generally, but that's his field, and good for him to go after it with what tools he has available. It strikes me as a big ask, though, that he bit off more than he could chew in the paper, and that it's hardly a surprise he ran into some problems. And insert mere layman disclaimer here.

    • You haven't come up with a serious argument against Lewandowsky's point. You have just implied that you don't like it. So in what way don't you like it?

    • unsolved problems presented by the hiatus

      Nonsense - already in a purely statistical sense. (Here is homework for you: Print out a Temp chart 1970-now, take a transparent ruler and draw the trend line. Just to be sure, do that with at least 2 printouts rotated (the 2nd around 180°) and determine the average trend. Then look at the fluctuations around the trend. If you still see a hiatus, consult a doctor, e.g. Tamino, who can administer a dose of math to make the delusion go away: http://tamino.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/global-temperature-the-post-1998-surprise/

      It's nonsense also in a climate physical sense: See e.g. the famous graph of Foster and Rahmstorf 2011, or look for the latest data on ocean warming and compare ocean with atmospheric heat capacity.

      You can no longer expect any mercy with such nonsense.

      [Please tone it down, Martin. If he has a point or thinks he does, let him make it. -mt]

      • Sorry, I meant specifically the "hiatus" double-nonsense. It makes go through the ceiling since medunno how many years.

        I almost hope the big El Nino will come as predicted for later this year. Then the hiatus delusion will finally be dead.

  9. Ah, the 'goes like this'! Its underlining doesn't turn on (on my computer) unless you pass the cursor over it! Thanks.

  10. Michael, fair question -- my arguments, such as they are, are merely instinctive suppositions -- I'll think more about what underlies those instincts, and I'll read his paper again.

    In the meantime, would it be unfair for me to say you haven't come up with a serious argument for Lewandowsky's point, that you have just implied that you do like it? And in what way do you like it? I don't mean that flippantly at all -- I simply don't recall where you made your arguments in support of his point and would appreciate a reminder and/or pointer. (And I'll assume his point is that there is a surplus of conspiracy theory ideation on the "wrong side" of this issue?)

    • My first impression of the paper was not enthusiastic, but I have reread it more carefully and am more sympathetic.

      The paragraph I quoted stands as its own defense in my opinion. It says something about the naysayer community that is important for those considering the climate politics landscape to understand.

      As you say the assertion is that that there is a surplus of conspiracy theory ideation on the "wrong side" of this issue; the very issue of sidedness notwithstanding. To be clear, there is a spectrum of legitimate scientific opinion on anthropogenic climate change, and then there is the almost perfectly non-overlapping naysayer community with a vast array of mutually incoherent and mostly incompetent hypotheses.

      The outsider group has grotesquely disproportionate influence in political discourse. It is a matter of crucial importance to understand how and why. That conspiracy ideation may be involved in this particular matter to an extent unusual even in our paranoid zeitgeist is surely of interest. Lewandowsky et al present evidence to this effect. What further support does it need from me?

      Do I believe their hypothesis is correct? My prior was affirmative, so I can't say I'm surprised by this evidence. But what relevance could that possibly have to anything?

      If you are asking whether I am convinced by their argument, all I can say is I didn't need their argument to be convinced. But in regards to the present controversy, whether the point is correct or not is of little relevance, and whether I in particular think so is even less important.

      The question at hand is whether and how the point may be discussed at all.

  11. To quote whoever actually said it -- seems as though everyone gets credit, "I apologize for writing such a long post -- I didn't have time to write a short one."

    Thanks, first, for your reply, and I am struck by, "the outsider group has grotesquely disproportionate influence in political discourse." That's some statement, and I can't say it's incorrect, but from my point of view (as an educator) I find it breathtaking. In this country and more so in Europe, don't you think it's the case that right-thinking people -- I'm not one of them to be sure -- hold sway, that the weirdos are the deniers, that you can't draw a political cartoon in a newspaper from other than the non-denier point of view? I would have thought the deniers are almost entirely marginalized -- I know I dare not open my mouth in dissent on the subject in my profession, as one tiny example, and have you noticed that it seems to be the emeritus crowd on the wrong side of the debate? Which cuts either way, of course -- "a bunch of old cranks" or "the only ones who can afford to dissent". But these are just musings. To your question about the paper itself, I'm glad you held my feet to it -- I had been too glib in my first response, I thought, after Mr. Skuce was kind enough to lead me to it.

    So I read the darn thing again, more closely this time, and I have to say Frontiers does look a bit silly to me -- I have no idea how this paper ever made it to publication. Indeed, on p. 31, the authors should probably edit out a reference to the paper's placement in "the peer-reviewed literature" which after retraction I assume it no longer is. But to begin at the beginning, the very premise of the thing is odd -- I'm going to take a previous article of mine (LOG12 -- guess I'll have to read that one some day) and see how a select group of people react to it, with an eye to determining if that reaction can be generalized as conspiracy ideation. And almost right away it becomes clear that it's going to be anecdotal and -- pardon my French -- a pissing contest between people who don't agree with each other. A list begins to take shape which climate deniers are clearly going to join -- tobacconists, 9/11ers, fake moon landing-ites, HIV/Aidsers, anti-vaccinationists, Princess Dianists and… free market ideologues?! Heavens.

    We hit an ironic moment on page 5 when Lewandowsky takes on the GCC as a conspiracy of companies and trade associations whose conspiratorial activity is to promote the idea that climate alarmists are conspiracists. And they may well be, but the author here reminds one of the very "rhetorical means" that Lahsen accuses the GCC of using. The dread "lobby group".

    Then we get to what is, for me, the first big stretch, the idea that "hoax", "corruption", "scam", "fraud" and even "assertion" are evidence of conspiracy rather than the snark that nearly defines the climate debate on either side. And then, as we move to p. 6, we find that accusations of data fudging are evidence of conspiratorial thinking rather than irresponsible blogging. "Statements such as 'the biggest scam in the world to date" are going to be classified as conspiracist rather than obnoxious. Then the startling bit about free-market ideology (p. 7), later withdrawn you could say.

    Here come "the climate denialist blogospher" -- this in a serious academic paper, and "research ... has shown that threats -- in particular to people's sense of control -- can trigger small-scale conspiracy theories." Well, that would be anyone, no? Are the denialists/deniers in this paper the only ones trying (unsuccessfully) to control an issue? But we learn that "the extent and vehemence of contrarian activity provided a particularly informative testbed for an analysis of how conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science among web deniers." What an amazing tone! Absolutely the sort of thing you'd expect on a blog, but in a peer-reviewed paper intending to prove a point by scientific methods?

    And here is the method, the 21 papers -- we never learn much about the other 20 -- and a study about how I feel about what people wrote about me. The assembly of Nefarious Intention; Persecution-Victimization; Nihilistic Skepticism; Nothing-Is-An-Accident; Must-Be-Wrong; Self-Sealing -- so that now such wildly subjective analysis can be given the patina of scientific research by reduction to acronym: NI; PN; NS; NoA; MbW; SS. It is here one looks over his shoulder and wonders if this paper is a gag, an elaborate prank pulled off by a close friend. And the SS turns out to be best exemplified by the refusal to buy the exoneration of the so-called Climategate e-mailers. Phil Jones was exonerated? Well, after a fashion, I suppose. But the idea that anyone sees anything in that fiasco as proof of anything at all gives me pause.

    Finally, we arrive at the parade of references to climate audit and wattsupwiththat et al and it becomes increasingly clear that this is a long, drawn-out blog battle masquerading as scholarship. But greatly to his credit, Lewandowsky finally admits the jig is up. "Our analysis was concerned with the blogosphere's response to a single 4,000-word article. One might therefore question the generality of our results." And "we have considered the 'blogosphere' as if it were a separate entitity." And "the evidence falls far short of 'real' conspiracy theories." He believes he deals with these reasonable objections effectively, but once again we get that weird, almost petulant tone, e.g. "consonant with the slant of recent popular books espousing denial." Espousing denial! "Science denial commonly involves 'skeptics' self-perception of being the only rational consumers in a sea of corrupt or self-serving scientists." The word "skeptics" gets the scare quotes; "denial" does not. Again, the snarky stuff of bloggers.

    I give up, finally, when I reach "two of the present authors also contributed to LOG12 and the present analysis may therefore be biased by a potential conflict of interest." You think? I reach a point where I'm embarrassed that I've spent as much time on this issue, this paper, as I have. Where has the fascination come from? Why is anyone even talking about it? This is the paper some want to point to which retraction has been an assault on academic freedom? This paper? To support it is foolish, sure, but I realize that to take issue with it is just as bad. I wonder how many people have actually read it, page by page, and I wonder what point of view you'd need to espouse in order to take it seriously.

    So, the way-too-long answer to your good question, Michael: the paper is much worse than I originally thought, and I hope you understand why I think so, even if you disagree.

    • I'm not really interested in an exegesis of the paper. Perhaps someone else wants to engage Walter on that.

      Again, the fact that the naysayer blogs are paranoid about climate science is a given. They have little choice - the only possibilities are that the consensus regarding CO2 being risky is based on fact or that it is based on some sinister social manipulation.

      The fact that there is no more counter-consensus among the naysayers about the nature of the social manipulation than there is about the actual physics is telling, and the paper tried to tell that story. Whether it did so well enough or not is of secondary importance now that the larger issue of intimidation is raised.

      What's far more crucial to understand is that far larger issues are raised by the retraction than are raised by the publication. A retraction is a big deal. Papers that are weak or erroneous are published every day; very few of them are retracted, and generally those few are retracted because of egregious misconduct, typically falsified data or plagiarism.

      The fact that you-know-who got on his famous high horse and threatened to bring out the lawyers doesn't really rise to that level.

      Sometimes science requires courage.

      • I think I'm less interested in that exegesis than you are now. That was an unpleasant ride, a [necessarily?] incoherent post of mine in response, and I blame you for putting me through it :)

        I don't think it's a given at all that the naysayer blogs (if I'm guessing correctly whom you have in mind) are paranoid about climate science. I think there are paranoid people everywhere, including on all the climate blogs I've ever visited on any side. Perhaps you mean to say there are some paranoid individuals on the naysayer side who you'd not care to name? And of course the current consensus regarding CO2 being risky is based on fact -- the question is: Is it correctly based on fact, and are there enough well-understood facts in play yet? There is this hiatus bugger, among other things. We know from history that the current consensus is wrong, but is it Newtonian wrong (in which case almost fantastically right) or is it aether wrong (spectacularly wrong), or, most likely, is it somewhere in between. While we're waiting to find out, I for one find little wrong with applying the precautionary principle with the least possible disruption to the current welfare. Geo-engineering and nuclear leap to mind over and above the good alternates already in play; social engineering seems increasingly unlikely, but perhaps something will change that. I'm a tiny footprint guy, but I know I'm in a tiny minority there.

        You say it is a fact that there is "no more counter-consensus among the naysayers about the nature of the social manipulation than there is about the actual physics". Surely that's an opinion, not a fact? A story, as you put it, and one told in such an unconvincing manner, in my opinion, told so badly it ultimately had to be retracted. You are convinced that nefarious forces, most specifically Steve McIntrye I suppose, are what brought this paper down rather than its own bizarre pseudo-scientific content, and you may be proven correct if such matters are ever proven. It did get published, after all, and you would know more than I do about weak papers getting published all the time, presumably in the social sciences rather than the so-called hard sciences. Perhaps there actually was some egregious conduct, though it seems unlikely -- I have not spent much time digging into all that, and nor will I, even if I thought it would do any good. In any event, if it is as shoddy a paper as I believe it is, surely it's no loss that it's removed from the p-r scholarship.

    • Thanks, first, for your reply, and I am struck by, "the outsider group has grotesquely disproportionate influence in political discourse." That's some statement, and I can't say it's incorrect, but from my point of view (as an educator) I find it breathtaking. In this country and more so in Europe, don't you think it's the case that right-thinking people -- I'm not one of them to be sure -- hold sway, that the weirdos are the deniers, that you can't draw a political cartoon in a newspaper from other than the non-denier point of view?

      A great deal depends on the epistemic status of the claims, doesn't it? HIV denial and holocaust denial are not welcome in the mainstream press either. Presuming that there are no coherent claims from the climate naysayer side, just hostility, suspicion, and cultivated confusion, their influence with major media and political parties is a grotesque failure of our civilization. That it is so prevalent is indeed a problem, and that is the problem that occupies Lewandowsky. It is little wonder that the victims of this phenomenon dislike him.

      Now if you were to provide a meaningful hypothesis both for how the scientific community got this so badly wrong and for how radiative transfer actually works on a sunlit planet, that might be another matter. But nothing of the sort exists.

      • To "the scientific community got this so badly wrong" I don't think they've got it badly wrong at all, but that they have not yet gotten it reliably right. The hiatus has raised a useful debate in that regard (I know there are a few who still argue there isn't one, the IPPC notably not among them -- I'm not going to convince them otherwise and won't try) about where the heat we expected to see has gone, what the natural factors might be that have contributed to it, how much longer it could be expected to last and the like. That said, AGW is clearly the best theory available until we get a better understanding of other drivers; it may well prove to be the prime bullet, and the sensitivity high. Or it may prove not to have been quite the demon we thought.

      • The rigor and sophistication of subject understanding in the most competent corners of climate science exceeds that of the best investigators of many other sciences, and greatly overshadows any contemporary competence in economics. Failure to understand this is common, but it is a failure to understand the facts of the matter.

  12. Walter Manny:

    Thanks, first, for your reply, and I am struck by, "the outsider group has grotesquely disproportionate influence in political discourse." That's some statement, and I can't say it's incorrect, but from my point of view (as an educator) I find it breathtaking. In this country and more so in Europe, don't you think it's the case that right-thinking people -- I'm not one of them to be sure -- hold sway, that the weirdos are the deniers, that you can't draw a political cartoon in a newspaper from other than the non-denier point of view? I would have thought the deniers are almost entirely marginalized...

    Well, Mr. Manny, we're both left breathless -- if you think deniers are marginalized in political discourse, one can only conclude you haven't been paying attention.

    I just now typed "Wall Street Journal climate" into the Google search bar. The first two hits are for opinion pieces published within the last two months, both explicitly denialist on AGW. The third hit was for a straight news report on the latest IPCC WGII report on the impacts of climate change. Its tone is neutral until the last paragraph:

    The IPCC's credibility has come under scrutiny since a 2007 report that contained errors about the pace of the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

    I then searched for "Forbes climate". The top hits were lopsidedly denialist. Fox News? Overwhelmingly denialist. Heading across the pond, two major U.K. newspapers, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail: denialism front and center.

    I stopped there, having reached my pain threshold. Of course climate realism can be found in MSM outlets as well, but deniers are far from marginalized either in the U.S. or in Europe. And Americans, at least, are listening to them: why else do polls show, for example, that Less than Half of Americans Believe Humans are Cause of Global Climate Change? The mismatch between public opinion and the nearly-complete consensus among scientists, and the lack of any serious attempts by the U.S. Congress to address the problem, are sufficiently strong evidence IMO for the disproportionate influence of deniers in political discourse.

    • I assume you followed such searches with 'New York Times climate', 'BBC Climate', Guardian Climate, etc., as well as similar searches of television content.

      Do news organizations with a predominantly conservative and U.S. based readership give more play to non-consensus stories? Yes. But that approach to understanding media coverage is obviously flawed. The candidates Rush Limbaugh backs usually don't even get nominated, much less elected, and the readership of Fox News and WSJ outside of the U.S. is quite low and if they had an 'impact rating' the way journals do (and why don't they?), it would be clear that the consensus view of climate change overwhelms the media play given to skeptics.

      Pandering to U.S. conservatives is profitable and it is replicated in the UK with a few publications targeting Tory readership--well, now it's UKIP readership, I guess. It is not very influential. Proof exists on this thread and other concurrent threads at this weblog. People are talking about McIntyre, twisting what he writes and imputing base motives to his actions. But none of you are writing about Morano. None of you are writing about Delingpole. The difference is clear.

      • Yes, McIntyre is a far more interesting and dangerous character than Delingpole.

        As for Morano, the question is what he is really doing behind the scenes. He is a smart SOB who could maintain that website in a few hours a week. I'd really like to know if he is just laughing all the way to the bank, or has influence in a lot more directions than meets the eye.

        Yes, that passes for conspiratorial ideation. Yep. Doesn't mean it's false.

      • Mr. Fuller, my google survey was in response to Walter Manny's statement "I would have thought the deniers are almost entirely marginalized". It was as rigorous as needed to show that denialism, far from being marginalized, is front and center in U.S. and U.K. media outlets with large audiences.

        Outside the U.S. and the U.K the consensus view may be represented more proportionately, but the two countries respectively rank 1st and 7th globally for total GHG emissions. That gives deniers in the U.S. and U.K. disproportionate media exposure, for reasonable definitions of disproportionate.

        I don't pay much attention to Rush Limbaugh or Steve McIntyre myself, and it's not easy to assign a value to the influence wielded by Planet3 commenters in political discourse. With due respect to our hosts, in this country it would appear to be slight, as deniers are numerous in the 113th U.S. Congress:

        Over 56 percent — 133 members — of the current Republican caucus in the House of Representatives deny the basic tenets of climate science. 65 percent (30 members) of the Senate Republican caucus also deny climate change. What this means is that they have made public statements indicating that they question or reject that climate change is real, is happening, and is caused by human consumption of fossil fuels.

        Thus, MT's assertion that "The outsider group has grotesquely disproportionate influence in political discourse" is well-supported by the evidence.

      • Let's assume for the sake of argument that Markram is being disingenuous, even dishonest, that all of these statements are post hoc digging. I see no evidence to support it, but let's assume it. Does the statement, "While the subjects and their statements were public, they did not give their consent to a public psychological diagnosis in a scientific study," give anyone pause even if it could be determined to be an invented rationalization for the retraction? Is it a good idea, a good contribution generally, to diagnose publicly in this manner?

      • If you actually follow the whole story as described by the participants, this hardly lets Frontiers off the hook.

        Lewandowsky would probably claim that "conspiracist ideation" is not a diagnosis. In a way this is fair, as I tried to demonstrate here in having an explicitly conspiracist idea of my own regarding Marc Morano.

        Nevertheless, it is a troubling issue. Certainly, the possibility of a diagnostic interpretation is raised. This is what made me uncomfortable in the first place.

        On the other hand, the question remains the rhetorical asymmetry - why can climate naysayers make the most extravagant claims about climate science, while being subject to outrage and retraction when someone merely demonstrates that extravagant claims are being made?

        There is no reasonable way for someone who has been in the trenches to doubt that some paranoid claims are directed to climate scientists. In what context can we make that assertion to the rest of the world? Without answering this, even in the absence of unfair dealings between the journal vis-a-vis the authors and reviewers that is evident in the details of the story, gigantic issues are raised by the retraction.

        In general, in a contentious situation, people will interpret the ethical constraints in their own favor. Compare, for instance, the questions of free speech raised by the grotesque comparison between Mike Mann and Jerry Sandusky, and the explicit accusations that Mike has falsified data. Without agreeing with every word Mike ever says, I am absolutely confident that he does his scientific work in good faith, and that there is not a single shred of evidence out there that he doesn't. Of the few CRU emails that are hard to justify, not a single one was written by Mike. But there is outrage that he might sue. This after all limits freedom of expression in the press.

        The journals are the only branch of the press that the actual scientific community has much influence upon. What magic principle prevents Lewandowsky from making the far milder and far better supported and far truer observations about McIntyre et al. Those who are outraged at Lewandowsky's paper who are also outraged at Mann's lawsuit really have some exhausting mental gymnastics regimen to maintain.

        How should Lewandowsky have defended himself against these numerous at best marginal allegations? In a sense, RF was a stunt, but the structure of postnormal science seems to be designed such that science can be accused of anything and defend itself on nothing; either accusations or defenses are treated as violations of protocol. Such implicit protocols assume a far more equable social environment in which the process of discourse is a shared responsibility rather than a target of calumny. A stunt may have been the only response.

        And like Gleick's rather more drastic stunt, it has at least partially worked. The larger issues are being raised, when they were previously buried.

        Do scientists actually need to become yippies? Should the boomers among us go into our attics and try to find our old Abbie Hoffman screeds? How the hell are we supposed to defend ourselves against this crap? (Walter, please assume for the sake of argument that it's mostly crap being flung at us.)

      • "What magic principle prevents Lewandowsky from making the far milder and far better supported and far truer observations about McIntyre et al. Those who are outraged at Lewandowsky's paper who are also outraged at Mann's lawsuit really have some exhausting mental gymnastics regimen to maintain. "

        The magic principle appears to me to be the difference between 'peer reviewed science' and 'random blog posts'. Lewandowsky and Simberg can write almost anything they want on their blogs - that is free speech.
        But when something is represented as scientific research sponsored and ethically reviewed by presumably reputable scientific institutions, peer reviewed, and published in a scientific journal, then I think the contents of a paper should be subject to much more that the limits to free speech.
        So if you want the prestige of peer reviewed publication, you have to live by more rules than for your blog posts.

      • I think the contents of a paper should be subject to much more that the limits to free speech.

        This is a matter for the specific journal's policies; it is nowhere universally enforced.

        Whether a publication is or is not adjudicated a legitimate peer-reviewed journal is not an issue for the legal system. Indeed it is part of the informal process by which science actually advances, even though the journals themselves are increasingly a pro forma matter rather than an actual medium of communication.

        The journal itself could have rejected the paper as outside its purview. Having sent it on for review, which was successfully passed, the journal needs extraordinary evidence to withdraw it, evidence which obviously does not exist.

        This is aside from all the subsequent double-dealing and inconsistency on the part of the journal, which wasted a lot of time and energy that might have been put into more fruitful pursuits.

        All this said, I can't help but thinking the glorious Principles of Science purportedly being violated here have been laid out both ad hoc and post hoc. (It's a hoccy schtick!)

        Those of us less than totally outraged are still looking for someone to provide chapter and verse as to what pre-existing principle was violated.

        Meanwhile, compare "these statements fit criteria for this sort of thinking that is sometimes diagnostic of that sort of psychopathology" to "this specific guy abuses data, covers his tracks, and lies", where the former is demonstrably true and the latter demonstrably false. It is very interesting to say the least to see so how the outrage is meted out in some quarters.

      • "Whether a publication is or is not adjudicated a legitimate peer-reviewed journal is not an issue for the legal system."
        I agree.

        "The journal itself could have rejected the paper as outside its purview. Having sent it on for review, which was successfully passed, the journal needs extraordinary evidence to withdraw it, evidence which obviously does not exist."
        I would not call review 'successfully passed' if the initial reviewers refused to be associated with the paper and the only favorable review came from a journalism student who appeared to have substantial bias.

        "This is aside from all the subsequent double-dealing and inconsistency on the part of the journal, which wasted a lot of time and energy that might have been put into more fruitful pursuits."
        I tend to agree and won't defend the journal, except that their final decision appears correct.

        "All this said, I can't help but thinking the glorious Principles of Science purportedly being violated here have been laid out both ad hoc and post hoc. (It's a hoccy schtick!)
        Those of us less than totally outraged are still looking for someone to provide chapter and verse as to what pre-existing principle was violated."
        Maybe not 'Principles of Science', but I think an established principle of research on human subjects, as finally indicated by the journal: "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."

      • To call them subjects is a stretch of established traditions and an onerous constraint on inquiry. That's really the crux of whether the paper should have been rejected on ethical grounds.

        The UWA frankly disagrees, even though Lewandowsky no longer is affiliated with them and they have no stake in his further career.

        But given that this at worst very marginal violation got past review, the journal needed very strong evidence to retract, which has not been forthcoming.

        "I would not call review 'successfully passed' if the initial reviewers refused to be associated with the paper and the only favorable review came from a journalism student who appeared to have substantial bias." seems to me to be a rather self-serving post hoc judgment.

        Nobody except Frontiers knows who the other two are - they may not even be aware of this controversy. In any case, a reviewer self-identifying is itself extraordinary and nontraditional. [ wrong. see below. -mt]

        No? Then where are the Climate Research reviewers defending Willie Soon, then, if you please?

      • "Nobody except Frontiers knows who the other two are - they may not even be aware of this controversy. In any case, a reviewer self-identifying is itself extraordinary and nontraditional."

        Apparently it is Frontiers policy to identify reviewers:
        "We know that at least one of the original reviewers, Michael Woods, had problems with the paper, expressed them to the Editor and authors, and when his issues were not addressed he requested removal as a listed reviewer (from my personal correspondence with him). A review of his credentials would seem to how him to be well qualified as a reviewer for Lewandowsky’s work.

        Then there was the short-lived appearance of Prof. Prathiba Natesan. Ms. Natesan appears to be very well qualified – with direct Psych statistical knowledge (teachers this). Her name was associated for just a few days before being replaced with Dr. Virem Swami."
        From: http://climateaudit.org/2014/04/04/frontiers-issues-statement-on-lewandowsky/#comment-535031

      • Reviewers are not anonymous at Frontiers after an article is published. That's interesting. My assumption that it was otherwise is incorrect.

        Frontiers is striving to remove any bias from the review process and acknowledge the reviewers for the significant contributions in improving the paper. To guarantee the most transparent and objective reviews, the identities of review editors remain anonymous during the review period. Only in case an article is accepted do their names appear on the published manuscript, without exceptions. However, if for any reasons a review editor withdraws during any stage of the review process, his/her name will not be disclosed.

        This all said, I can't assume that the rest of the linked comment is true. It's rather peculiar that a reviewer who recused himself has apparently been identified, but one has to immerse oneself in McIntyre-world to know what these guys have convinced themselves of, something that has never turned out to be particularly rewarding. (They should issue summaries for the rest of us.)

        Any explanation of how the names of Woods and Natesan came out, then, since Frontiers apparently names reviewers (I haven't spotted where) only when the review is successfully completed?

        In any case, a reviewer withdrawing is different from that reviewer recommending non-publication, which that person might have done.

      • "Any explanation of how the names of Woods and Natesan came out, then, since Frontiers apparently names reviewers (I haven't spotted where) only when the review is successfully completed?"

        The next CA comment has: "Steve: my understanding is that Wood did write a negative review. Under Frontiers policy, reviewers are named. Wood was named as a reviewer in the first release, but asked to be removed. The paper was re-issued without Woods’ name. There were then two more iterations in which the reviewers changed before finally settling with editor Swami and reviewer McKewon being named as reviewers."

        I think I also saw a comment at Retraction Watch about the various reviewers being listed at Frontiers with the various releases of the paper.

  13. "Yes, that passes for conspiratorial ideation. Yep. Doesn't mean it's false."

    PLEASE tell me you're just taking the piss. You can't possibly be saying conspiratorial thinking is OK in this case but not in others. If so, thanks, but I'm off.

    • You are misreading Lewandowsky et al.

      Of course conspiratorial thinking is okay sometimes, because sometimes there is a conspiracy. What is of interest in the recursive fury incident is the large number of mutually incoherent conspiracies that popped up so quickly.

      It's important to note that the RF paper explicitly said that they were NOT judging the veracity of the specific conspiracy theories. That is, they were not defending either the methods or conclusions of the original paper. That's not just a formal nicety. It's the sort of simplification that makes scientific reasoning possible.

      Nothing in RF said conspiratorial reasoning is "bad" per se. It just added a fairly bullet-proof demonstration that it exists in this particular debate in considerable force. What that says about the nature of conversations like this very one is not totally clear, but it's not irrelevant either. Human thought makes progress in small increments.

      The interpretation that climate naysayers are "crazed" in some sense is certainly one possible explanation. That there is actually a conspiracy is another, but this is somewhat weakened as a complete explanation by the plethora of theories proposed in this case.

  14. Michael, I think you're trying too hard here. Anyone who reads that paper -- not a take on it but the paper itself -- understands full well what the lead author thinks of conspiratorial thinking. Moon landings and Princess Diana are in there for a reason. Perhaps what led to think of it as a stunt at one point even if you no longer do. In any event, implicating opponents in imagined conspiracies does nothing to advance the science. Countering their arguments with better ones might do the trick, though it's harder.

    • stunt

      Acknowledged. The defense is that there doesn't seem to be any accepted way of making the social process of climate science denial a legitimate topic, and it's desperately important that we do so.

      Countering their arguments with better ones might do the trick, though it's harder.

      I'm cool with that. Okay, you first. Let's start with the fact that the scientists most expert in physical climatology are almost universally convinced that the current policy trajectory is grossly irresponsible.

      I may regret this, but given that context, have you got any actual arguments against the overwhelming evidence that CO2 mitigation is drastically overdue?

      (Take it to the open thread please.)

  15. Oops. Saw your 2nd before your first. All I might add to those good thoughts is that I believe Mann's suit is a waste of everyone's time. He should drop it. Better still both sides should drop it. And if someone were actually sue Lewandowsky, that would be just as bad. To me bad behavior is just that and all sides have displayed it, but in many ways things are improving. One example would be that, notwithstanding the continued use of the noxious term 'deniers', at least they are no longer shills for the oil companies. Is McIntyre offering his considerable statistical skills to make the latest climate study the best it can be? Has Mann asked for his help? More likely we'll see the end of the intifada first, but one can dream.

    • Oh, please. McIntyre's only demonstrated skill is in nitpicking insofar as I know. Does he have any results of his own?

      He certainly never offered anything to the paleoclimate community other than hostility, and to his followers he offers endless innuendo carefully designed to encourage their now-demonstrated paranoid streak.

      • Um, isn't nitpicking devoutly to be desired when playing among the bristlecones? Seems to me like pretty tough science!

      • It's apparently not as tough as some would claim, because the non-nitpicked result remains well within the range of subsequent research on the same topic. Indeed, most subsequent estimates fall within Mann et al's 95% confidence bounds 95% of the time. In short, the paper was correct in its conclusions, even if a very fussy statistician could find places for improvement.

        As I understand it, this is normal. For instance, electrical engineers were using Heaviside's algorithms for decades before mathematicians could find a way to formulate it that didn't bother them.

        The scientific purpose of mathematics is to elucidate science, not to terrorize it.

    • A retraction is a pretty extreme outcome; a retraction on which the author agreed to the terms, followed by explanatory text by the journal that explicitly contradicts that agreement and misrepresents the course of events leading up to it is jaw-dropping.

  16. Timing's off in my responses. In a perfect world, CO2 stops tomorrow. It's not perfect, way too much is invested in its use, and I bet it's going to be more about geoengineering than anything else if the warming picks up again. (Even nuclear, a screamingly obvious solution, has too much invested in opposition.)

    I don't know what you're referring to with 'proxy arguments ad hominem' so I can't respond to that.


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  1. Oh, bugger off. You're still censoring me? What a dweeb. You can never win an argument fairly, can you?

    [ Nobody is awake all night waiting for comments from China, dude.]

  2. As for you not waiting for China time, as usual, you want to show your best side. I suppose that's natural. However, the truth is there are three comments from me that are not shown as 'shadow', not in your borehole and not on your website. I waited almost hours before commenting to insure that it was not coincidental and your creation of this feature and your shadow response to me came even later.

    As has been your habit for years, you call for conversation, then censor it,then hide the fact that you are doing so.

    As I said, you cannot win the argument, so you censor your opposition.

  3. This letter from Frontiers should be included in this thread.

    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

    [ A link suffices. ]

    • "[ A link suffices. ]"

      No, it doesn't.

      "Yes, that passes for conspiratorial ideation. Yep. Doesn't mean it's false." The whole point of 'conspiratorial ideation' is that it doesn't matter if it's true or false. Ask your good friend Lewandowsky. Paranoids do have enemies.

      "Yes, McIntyre is a far more interesting and dangerous character than Delingpole." Dangerous to what? The constant misreading of McIntyre's character and misattribution of motive to him is a never-ending source of surprise to those of us not involved in conspiratorial ideation--that is, 99% of us.

      You really need to read Brad Keyes' new weblog if you want to know how you come across. http://climatenuremberg.com/

      Oh--there's a link. See? When you want to discuss content, you put in content. When you want to refer to a source, use a link.

      [ At least pretend to be a calm respectful fellow seeker of truth, or go away, please. ]

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