It’s a conspiracy!


I’ve finally finished reading Recursive Fury: a paper which studied blog comments written in response to the publication of NASA faked the moon landing-therefore (climate) science is a hoax. I’m not going to comment on the moon landing paper other than to say that it explored the connection between the endorsement of free-market economics and conspiratorial thinking.

The Recursive Fury paper followed the response in the blogosphere to the publication of the moon landing paper by collecting blog comments that questioned its validity. The authors were able to show that many of these comments met the criteria for conspiracist ideation.

No permission was sought from commenters to use their comments. Many comments are quoted in the paper but they’re quoted without names. However, it’s very easy to find out who said what just by typing the comment into Google and searching – I went in search of authors for some comments simply because I thought they were so unbelievable.

I think initially the paper was published with supplementary material which did include the names (or handles if people comment using a pseudonym), however this is no longer available with the paper. I have also read that some comments were incorrectly attributed, but the few I checked all matched up and it’s my understanding that these mistakes have been corrected.

Is it ethically acceptable to use comments made on a public blog in research? Here are my thoughts:

* Blog comments are in the public domain and when someone writes a comment on a public blog, there is implicit acceptance that this is public material and that it can be quoted by others and attributed to them.

* I don’t think academics need to get permission from blog commenters to study comments which are public.

BUT, there’s a big BUT here:

* The above two are on the proviso that the research does not harm the commenters themselves.

Many of the commenters complained that the research did cause them harm and it is because of complaints made to the publisher that this paper has now been retracted, a year after publication. One of the complaints I have seen is that by demonstrating conspiratorial content in comments, the authors are somehow attributing a mental illness to commenters. It is probably useful to define conspiracist ideation at this point. The authors define it as: “Conspiracist ideation generally refers to the propensity to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations (Sunstein and Vermeule, 2009)”.

Is conspiracist ideation a mental illness? Perhaps in some circumstances it could be a symptom of mental illness. In the examples I saw in Recursive Fury though, I did not think the comments could be regarded as enough to diagnose mental illness and nor did I feel the authors did so. The comments included things like accusations of scams and research misconduct, of deliberating skewing survey data, fabricating results and of cherry-picking. Pretty much all the usual defamatory stuff that can be found on “Skeptic” blogs.

I can’t pass judgement on the quality of the paper as I’m not qualified. I certainly found it interesting to read and I have plenty of anecdotal evidence of my own of conspiratorial thinking from climate science “Skeptics”. One interesting conclusion from the paper is that “a defining attribute of conspiracist ideation is its resistance to contrary evidence”. The authors argue that because of this, it is not worthwhile engaging directly with “Skeptics”.

135 Replies to “It’s a conspiracy!”

  1. Maybe I can break a trend : attempt to be the first comment on a post about the Recursive Fury paper that isn’t from one of those who have complained vociferously about it 🙂

    I’ve always felt some sympathy for those who were named in the supplementary material. I would be mortified if I was named in a paper that was assessing comments for conspiracy ideation. However, it’s not clear to me that it is unethical, or that it violates some rule about ethics in publishing. These were public comments. If you’re embarrassed by what you’ve said, maybe be more careful about what you say. Of course, if the assessment of the comments was wrong, that would be worthy of criticism. However, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone argue that the actual interpretation of the comments was wrong. Most of the arguments have been about the ethics of publishing such a paper.

    There’s also a probably catch-22. If they hadn’t included the comments, they would have been accused of not providing the raw data. If they provide the comments (with names or without) they’d be accused – as they have been – of behaving unethically. It’s almost as if such a study is impossible to do. Yet, from what I’ve seen, there is much conspiracy ideation in the climate science debate, and so such a study would seem to be both interesting and valuable.

    Something else I find somewhat ironic is that if a group of people are mortified by their name being mentioned in a paper that has assessed their comments for conspiracy ideation, why have they commented on virtually all articles about the Recursive Fury paper? Surely, once the paper had been retracted and the supplementary material had been removed, you’d want to distance yourself from it as much as possible?

    1. Thanks so much for your excellent comment! I hope that if I do get more comments, they’re all as good as yours 🙂

      I agree with everything you’ve said. It does seem impossible to write a paper about this. And there are so many conspiracies about climate science that I think it is probably worth studying and perhaps useful to learn how to better communicate the science or maybe how not to do it.

  2. As my understanding goes, ethics approvals were sought prior to publication and the reason the journal pulled it was purely because it got scared when confronted with potential legal action which by all accounts would likely have failed due to the first point made in that it is in the public domain. The hypocrisy shown by those who complain about their comments being used is astounding when you consider how defamatory those comments were in the first place. They are a precious lot.

    “The authors argue that because of this, it is not worthwhile engaging directly with “Skeptics”.” Indeed.

    1. All I can say is phew! Another reasonable comment. Thanks, UKISS.

      My understanding is similar to yours. I’m also not aware of anyone suing for defamation because of that paper. I did feel as I read it though, that the main author had a case for defamation.

    2. The ethics approval was to observe and no direct participation of any sort…

      The authors broke the ethics approval, by directly interacting with the participants.

      in my case co-author Michael Marriott had a personal history of attacking me and Anthony Watts on his blog,
      AND he was directly challenging me and directly interacting with me, on Stephan Lewandowsky’s own blog and his own blog Watching the Deniers. (in articles about the paper they were looking at responses to comment from!)

      thus I wrote to the author asking for my name to be removed form the data set, because his antagonism compromised the research. I also stated as it was not referred to, it would have no impact on the paper, and seemed a reasonable request given the circumstances,

      Marriott’ thinks he is at ‘war’ with the ‘sceptics’ and has a blog called Watching the Deniers, and during the research period he had 12 articles defending LOG 12 – Lewandowsky’s first paper) and was publicly attacking it’s critics..

      Do you really think he should have been a researcher on this paper?

      or John Cook, as one of the major criticisms of LOG12 was a question about John Cook’s personal honesty and integrity, about whether or not the LOG12 – NASA faked the Moon landing, therefore climate science is a hoax paper – survey was held at Skeptical Science. Again during the research period, John Cook was directly interacting with Geoff Chambers on SkS and by email (who was Geoff was named in paper) on this very question.

      No way could John Cook be perceived as neutral or without a very specific conflict of interest.

      The danger is this paper for psychology as a field was it was perceived as score settling with critics..
      which prompted this form Markram (is he some sort of climate denier, I think not)

      Henry Markram

      My own personal opinion: The authors of the retracted paper and their followers are doing the climate change crisis a tragic disservice by attacking people personally and saying that it is ethically ok to identify them in a scientific study. They made a monumental mistake, refused to fix it and that rightfully disqualified the study. The planet is headed for a cliff and the scientific evidence for climate change is way past a debate, in my opinion. Why even debate this with contrarians? If scientists think there is a debate, then why not debate this scientifically? Why help the ostriches of society (always are) keep their heads in the sand? Why not focus even more on the science of climate change? Why not develop potential scenarios so that society can get prepared? Is that not what scientists do? Does anyone really believe that a public lynching will help advance anything? Who comes off as the biggest nutter?

      Activism that abuses science as a weapon is just not helpful at a time of crisis.


      Markram thinks the planet id falling of a cliff, the science is settled, and their is a climate crisis,
      yet he see that this paper was ‘activism that abuses science as a weapon’

      1. The real irony here is that you didn’t wish to be identified and here you are identifying yourself. I had no idea. I’ll have to go back and have a close look now. You see, when I read comments from conspiracy theorists and science deniers, my eyes tend to glaze over. I also try and avoid engaging with that ilk because quite frankly their ill-informed opinions are unworthy of propagating. Congrats on the own goal. Have a great life.

  3. I believe that if someone publishes themselves by commenting on a blog, then they have no right to complain if it is distributed. They might have cause for complaint if their comment is unfairly construed. In such a case the laws of defamation would apply.

    As for the worth of sceptical or conspiracy based comment. It is a mixed bag. Some may genuinely believe, some may be correct and some may be demented. My belief, from some experience, is that most of it is attention seeking or maliscious mischief. The later also being a form of insanity. Therefore I mostly agree with “The authors argue that because of this, it is not worthwhile engaging directly with “Skeptics”.” However, sometimes one should not let a persausive misleading comment stand without rebuttal.

    I think I have commented before, that to change a person’s mind requires subtlety and respect but there is no changing the mind of those who are determined to be destructive and not necessarily believing their own rhetoric. In such cases short sharp and concisely dismissive deters by exposing and embarrasing rather than providing the engagement that is sought.

    The whole conundrum only exists because of those who willfully create it. Excluding those who are genuine, I wish they would all go away and let the world evolve. Unfortunately, a phase of insanity seems an inevitable part of that evolution. Sanity,with the clarity of mind and purpose that it enables, is surely our most important pursuit. Understanding the exact motives of of others and how they got that way being a useful tool.

    Good luck with that, and be careful what you do with that electric drill. aaaah 😀

    1. Graham,

      Yes, I’ll be careful with my electric drill. I promise. Don’t worry! It really doesn’t get used very often anyway.

      Regarding your comment about the mixed bag: I agree! There is a huge pool of people who call themselves “Skeptics” and some of them have more in common with people who agree with the consensus than with the more extreme end which is denial of greenhouse gas theory.

      It’s worth noting that this paper did not make judgements about individuals. It was more about the hypotheses which were invented to invalidate the findings of the moon paper and how these fit within the definition of conspiracist ideation.

      1. an example 😉

        ‘Richard Betts’ commented at Bishop Hill – that it didn’t look like Lewandowsky had tried very hard to contact sceptics.. and this comment was included in the Recursive Fury dataset

        This perfectly innocent comment (Betts went on to say, Lew could have just started a discussion thread at Bishop Hill, as an easy example, of trying a bit harder)

        This was turned into an example of ‘espousing conspiracy ideation’ in the authors eyes as sceptic conspiracy theory- that the authors – ‘Didn’t email deniers’

        this is a total misrepresentation of Richard comment – and shows an example of the quality of Marriott’s and Cook’s research.

        and of course all the ‘sceptics’ initially laughed at Prof Richard Betts (Head of Climate Impacts – Met Office, IPCC AR4 & AR5 lead author, being caught up in the Fury paper, as espousing conspiracy ideation, when it was just criticisms)

      2. That is not correct – table 3 attributed characteristics to named originators:

        Attribution is based on where and by whom a hypothesis was first proposed in public.
        pseudonymROMat ;

        the attributations were:

        NI, nefariousintent;

      3. Good morning Barry,

        I saw the comment from Richard Betts but it wasn’t in the paper itself. It was in the data set and from my understanding, the data set was the collection of hypotheses found in response to LOG12. It wasn’t discussed in the paper as an example of conspiracist ideation.

      4. Ah, sorry. You’re right. Table 3 identifies identifies 5 commenters although one of these is anonymous.

  4. “Conspiracist ideation generally refers to the propensity to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations (Sunstein and Vermeule, 2009)”.

    Given that it is just a propensity, you cannot see it in a single result. Conspiracies do exist, Watergate, Brutus, etc. What is special is when people or a group use this type of explanation a lot. Thus the single persons making the complaints about this paper cannot even claim that they were exposed in the article. That would be similar to blaming a single hurricane on climate change. Only the large mass of comments you you can see the conspiracist ideation.

    1. Victor,

      Yes, I felt the authors were very careful to focus the discussion on conspiracies in comments rather than the individuals who made them. They also made no judgement about whether there was any truth to the hypotheses, although some were quite evidently incorrect.

  5. I actually thought that commenting publicly was intentional. I first noticed comments appeared that seemed to elude to conspiracies, and link to weird places. It was exactly that behavior that drew me in. I would provide counter links, and so the pile on began.

    The funny thing is that in my family the conservatives are dealing with a lot of mental illness, and aren’t very successful in life. They believe whatever they find on the internet that suits their current belief. Its as though there is no ability to discern a good source from a bad one. (Weather is not a family topic any more. Sorry. 😦 ) When I asked them to show a source that stated Climate Change wasn’t real, I was shown blog post. These people don’t know what science is, or where to go to find it. So a Blogger=Authority to them.

    1. I have the same problem, OilMan: weather is not a safe topic in my family either.

      When I did my teacher training (I’ve got a post-grad diploma in secondary school teaching – computer science), something I taught to students I had on my prac was how to distinguish legitimate sources of information from crap ones on the web. This is not so obvious but is something everyone should know. That link to Bjorn Brembs is wonderful, thanks!

      1. I thought about going into my local high school and giving a quick talk about good sources and bad.

  6. rather bizarrely- Frontiers seem to have left he data sheet online!

    there are numerous problems with the this and the data set (and conflicts of interest)

    Ian Wolley has a comment included in the dataset, this is where it was odd.

    His comment was moderated at Shaping Tomorrows World (snipped) – this was Lewandowsky’s own blog about the Moon Hoax paper, and comments are being snipped by Lewandowsky and/or the Skeptical Science moderators (remember – ethics said observe – no direct participation of any sort) yet here we have Lewandowsky sniping his own critics.!

    Other sceptics are commenting on Shaping Tomorrows World – where Lewandowsky is snipping, deleting and moderating their comments) this is direct interaction and he is involved in t the responses,

    Same article.

    My comment – as moderated at Lewandowsky’s blog:

    [Barry reminisces about moderation. -w (2014-05-07, 8:26 EDT)]

    Sceptics were commenting there in good faith, unaware he was collecting data for his next research paper, which was criticisms of his won work! by moderating and controlling what was appearing, he was directly interacting and participating – ethics conflict of interest and deception.

    1. Barry,

      If their commenting policy says no copying and pasting of comments elsewhere, then why not just paste a link to the comment you want to discuss?

      Tom’s comment is in relation to LOG12, is that right? I haven’t read that paper and would prefer not to pass judgement on it here or even discuss it here if that’s ok.

      1. [Barry plays the ref. -w (2014-05-07, 8:17 EDT)]

  7. Another seldom-discussed issue with using text taken off comments published on the internet is that there is no quality control on how effectively the underlying idea has been communicated between the writer of the comment and the research that is doing the analysis.

    I know for a fact that the text I wrote and was used in Recursive Fury, has been completely misunderstood by the RF authors.

    I cannot blame them for not getting my subtle sarcasm and expressions of frustration. The fact is that remarks on the internet are written under a plethora of circumstances and especially comments to a blog might presume familiarity with the writer on the part of the reader. How many people tease a blogger friend, or have to condense their thoughts because they do not have time to write a long comment, or simply write tersely because it is a pain to write anything on certain mobile devices, etc etc.?

    These and many more should be considered as very important confounding factors that can totally invalidate any analysis of publicly made comments (the issue is slightly easier to deal with when the analysis is conducted on what one has written on his or her own blog, but it is much worse where space limitations such as on twitter make concepts very much harder to properly interpret).

    Analysis of internet texts is a brand new field and ought deserve to be properly developed before using it for telepsychiatry of strangers.

    1. [Please leave Elizabeth Taylor and her husbands out of this. -w (2014-05-07, 8:20 EDT)]

      1. [Omnologos can take care of himself, Barry. -w]

      2. The language is the least of our problems. Betts was miscategorised badly, and he is a native speaker. [No food fight. -w (2014-05-07, 8:20 EDT)]

        Going back to the point, I have explained the problem of how often-off-the-cuff internet remarks are not easy to interpret, for a myriad of reasons. I am not closing the door to all possible internet-based analyses…I am suggesting that such methods need be validated and checked thoroughly, before becoming acceptable in reputable scientific articles.

        This seems a reasonable learning point that we can all take out of the RF brouhaha. Does anybody disagree with it, and if so, why?

      3. uknowispeaksense: “The man who is out of focus..” Robin Williams in Deconstructing Harry. He finally resorts to getting special glasses so that everyone can see him clearly.

        Bottom line folks… if its on the internet its fair game. Be careful what you type in public and offer to the world. Careful how you say it because it could very well be misconstrued.

      4. Fair game is not fair game everywhere and in abstract…it does depend on the context, and on the usage. Nobody could object being quoted somewhere by somebody in some blog post or comment, but everybody has the right not to be quoted without consent by professionals doing medical studies, or in any case any study that can remotely touch the medical sphere.

        It is like copyright, fair use is allowed but only when it is…fair.

      5. Nope omnologos… Public is public. Blather on the internet and I can data mine you forever. I can study you and I can put you under a microscope.

        Google does this to you all the time. It then generates metrics about you and feeds ads to you based on its analysis of you. They track your mental state and even have an idea about how you are sitting.

        If you want privacy. Go home. Stay off the internet. (That’s a quote from an RCMP officer who was advising me on how to scan through another employee’s computer. I went through all of that guy’s dirt.)

    2. Omnologos,

      It’s a fair comment to highlight the risk of misinterpretation in blog comments. I have certainly misinterpreted my fair share. But the authors studied 10 different hypothesis that emerged in the blogosphere so it’s my understanding that this was based on lots of comments about these 10, rather than just one from you.

      1. but the comments frequently did not support the conspiracy.. especially when looked at in contest

        – ‘didn’t email deniers’ – most of the comments in the data set were along the lines that they didn’t try very hard.. ie Richard Betts comment.. or IF, they didn’t. so Richards comment and mine, and all the others in the dataset were was supporting the hypothesises, or not? If not why even have them collated.

        And why does Geoff Chambers single comment, get every attribute associated to him, (more than anybody else)

        because he was showing those traits, or because John Cook didn’t like him very much? Geoff was directly interacting/questioning John about his in LOG12 and the non-posting of the survey at SkS. The mere hint that Cook et al might be perceived as getting a bit of retaliation in by naming Geoff, is terribly damaging for the credibility of the paper.

        This interaction broke the ethics approval for the paper.. there is no way Geoff’s name and attribution is safe – Cook is utterly conflicted here.

        interestingly, the ‘strongest’ most repeated ‘conspiracy ideation’ that the survey was not held at Skeptical Science, gets no mention in the paper. somehow they missed that, despite Cook and Lewandowsky being frequently and repeatable asked about it.. and key claims about audience figures and prevalence of sceptics depend on it

        The earliest source of that ideation, was me asking Lewandowsky for prove of the link, in a private email in July 29th 2012. I said I could find no trace of it. Lew said he had had it, but could not find it. I merely thought him incompetent at that time. Tom Curtis has shown and others it never existed.

  8. [Barry reminisces about moderation. -w (2014-05-07, 8:23 EDT)]

    Note I misquoted Steve McIntyre – he had merely stated he could not find anything from Lewandowsky – Steve had never heard of Lewandowsky, could not recall an invite to participate in a survey from Lewandowsky and went searching for 2 year old – possibly spam foldered or deleted emails from Lewandowsky.

    Nobody at the time was aware that Lewandowsky had been given ethics approval to hide his name from the invitations to sceptic blogs (an assistant called Hanich approached sceptic blog) – as nobody was aware of this deception, unsurprisingly nobody found any emails from Lewandowsky.

    Lewandowsky of course knew of his decpetion, but seemed to delight in dozens of sceptics searching their inboxes/spamfilters/deleted folders for 2 year old emails from Lewandowsky, he was even mocking them in interviews with Desmog blog, and at Shaping Tomorrows World.

    He should of course have just emailed them to say what was going on, and unwound the original deception.

  9. For example in my twitter feed everybody can see my announcement that a major Italian newspaper will soon publish an analysis of why the new Prime Minister still allows earthquake to happen.

    The only way to understand it is to know the circumstances of his becoming PM, the recent content published about him in the newspaper, and the general state of Italian politics at this time.

    Unfortunately any content analysis will run the risk of classifying my tweet instead as a fake mad statement by a cultist.

    Not to mention the subtle reference to Tony Blair, lost on 99.99% of the readers anyway. What am I supposed to do then, self-censorship just in case some asinine researcher will bray by my twitter feed?? What for??

    1. further to this, the quotes in the dataset are partial ones – without the full context – or full quote – the researchers just creating a narrative?

      an example.

      Steve Mcintyre form the data set (listed Espousing conspiracy ideation – as ‘warmists faked data’) :

      “the reported responses from readers of
      Deltoid and similar blogs clearly included
      “scam” responses – a point conceded by Tom
      Curtis of Skeptical Science. Did your approved
      methodology include any precautions to
      identify and exclude “scam” responses? If so,
      what were they.”

      now Steve’s comment was basically a criticism that anonymous online survey run the risk of the anonymous partipants messing with the responses. There were even comment under the surveyed blogs how much fun they had with the survey

      this is Steve full comment:

      Marriott and Cook have been publicly attacking McIntyre for years (yet they were the neutral researchers brought in by Lewandowsky?!)

    2. I don’t follow you on Twitter because as a cultist engaged in the great conspiracy, I don’t have time. I’m too busy building drones for my Zionist overlords.

      1. [Barry rips off his shirt. -w]

      2. [Reverse “Yes, but Oil shill.” -w]

      1. well as I sent Rachel (at her request) the Fury paper and dataset, because she said she might be writing about it.. I do think there is a point.. It’s only a blog… what harm is there in discussing it, especially as people directly involved in (dataset) in the paper, ie ,me and Ian and omologos commenting.

        otherwise what would be the point in writing anything?

    1. Rachel is probably asleep – she is in New Zealand

    2. I was asleep. But is there are requirement to reply to every single comment on your blog? I’m going to be very busy today so it might not happen.

  10. These discussions on “conspiracy ideation” (c. S. Lewandowsky) are endlessly fascinating aren’t they?

    It’s particularly illuminating to observe OilMan & Rachel wrestling with the “mental illness” of those in their families that have different views to their own. I think a real psychologist might be able to help them – although perhaps not in the way they envisage.

    I see Rachel has chosen a 911 “truther” cartoon to illustrate her post. [Look, a green squirrel! -w]

      1. Funny that, anders. Do you know of anybody who has done a proper study on conspiracy ideation and global warming belief or skepticism?

      2. Argument against doing such a study? No, no…I just would like to see it done ethically, scientifically, legally, etc. I hope this sad story will spur interest in trying again in a more professional way, both in order to get a picture of conspiracy ideation vis à vis global warming, and in general to understand how to use internet texts in meaningful and informing ways.

      3. omnilogos… the existing study was done ethically, scientifically, legally. That is why it is still available to read on line here;

        Note the part about it being legal on page 1.

    1. Actually foxgoose, that comment came from my wife and her sister [… -w]

    2. Foxgoose,

      I was not “wrestling with the mental illness” of those in my family at all! I simply said that weather is not a safe topic. Mental illness has nothing to do with it.

      Perhaps I have read your comment to quickly (I have work to do, sorry) but I don’t understand your complaint about the cartoon. Conspiracy theories are not restricted to people from one end of the political spectrum. I had a friend who denied the effectiveness of vaccines and there was an element of conspiracist ideation in her reasoning. She was left-leaning and not stupid.

  11. Another confounding factor that need be addressed for this kind of studies, is how to identify who actually came up with the ‘ideation’ and when. The asynchronous nature of the internet makes it particularly challenging to verify if a commenter is using an original idea, or something that has been written by somebody else before, maybe in a different blog. This is not just a matter of stealing ideas, rather the fact that if A says x on blog 1 and B meets A on blog 2, B might repeat x as both A and B know whose idea it was, without A feeling the urge to establish priority.

    Once again this should be simpler to correct for, using blog posts, and is a major nightmare, in Twitter.

    1. Foxgoose,

      Please don’t come here and demand commenters answer your questions. AndThen doesn’t have to answer that. It’s hard to judge whether a paper is good or not when you’re not an expert in that field.

      Also, the way you’ve phrased your question is as though there are only two options:

      1. it’s an objective scientific enquiry
      2. a manifestation of the authors’ political and social world view.

      From what I read, it seemed to be an objective scientific enquiry to me, but I’m no social scientist.

      1. simple question – what should happen when authors break ( comprehensively ) the terms of the ethics approval.

      2. Omnologos,

        They make it very clear in the paper that no attempt is made whatsoever to respond to criticisms of LOG12 or of whether there is any truth to the criticisms, only that some of them demonstrated conspiracy ideation by the definition in the paper.

        I quote: “We remain neutral with respect to the question whether the remaining hypotheses presented valid criticisms. The issue of validity of those hypotheses – or indeed the validity of the conclusions of LOG12 – is orthogonal to the psychological question at issue here, viz. whether the response to LOG12 constituted conspiracist ideation”

      3. Barry,

        simple question – what should happen when authors break ( comprehensively ) the terms of the ethics approval.

        A paper that breaks the terms of ethics approval should be withdrawn but this is not the case here. Has the ethics committee that approved the paper said anything about this?

  12. Rachel

    I was struck by this statement in your post.

    ” I went in search of authors for some comments simply because I thought they were so unbelievable.”

    I think I’ve read most of those comments and I’d be fascinated to know which ones struck you as “unbelievable”.

    1. Foxgoose,

      One in particular was that of a high profile blogger who thought his IP had been targeted by Lewandowsky’s site and blocked. I thought that was rather paranoid and a little bit amusing.

      1. hi Rachel – [But RC moderation. -w]

        context is key here, remember at this time Lewandowsky was actively deleting and snipping Steve McIntyres comments at Shaping Tomorrows World. blocking him completely (by IP) was a reasonable possibility at the time.

        [And SkS moderation. -w (2014-05-07, 8:15 EDT)]

  13. and why did people think that IP blocking was a possibility, because of the actions of Lewandowsky, directly snipping and deleting comments form article he had written about his critics. [And SkS moderation. -w (2014-05-07, 8:15 EDT)]

    This is also Lewandowsky breaking his ethics approval, again..

    so IP blocking ‘conspiracy’ was only considered a possibility, because of Lewandowsky’s actions, deleting and snipping his critics comments… by his actions – Lewandowsky artificially stimulated the responses and artificially created the situation, so much for ‘observe’ as his ethics request stated.. A number of these actions were taken before he had approval, which according to UWA’s policies also voided the research data/collection. They were collating response 2 weeks prior to gaining approval (UWA ethics rule this out aswell)

    [And SkS moderation. -w (2014-05-07, 8:15 EDT)]

    1. Barry,

      I thought Lewandowsky took (and continues to take) the criticism remarkably well, especially given that some of it is defamatory – the allegations of research misconduct for instance. One blogger even provided an email address to Lewandowsky’s institution where complaints about misconduct could be made.

  14. the way he deal with it, is to ignore it. (this is not dealing with it) COPE have accepted that my complaint fits under their remit.

    It is only defamation if not true..

    UWA/Lewadowsky refuses to provide the full raw survey data for LOG12, this is a fact
    He told me personally he had the survey link for Skeptical Science, but can’t find it now, and that maybe Cook deleted it..
    (I’ll forward you the emails, if you insist, or don’t trust me on this)

    rather incompetent for the flagship journal of the APS do you not think..

    Tom Curtis confirmed it was not posted at SkS, wayback machine confirms it is not possible for it to have been there, visible to 390,000 thousand potential views of the survey, or the 78,000 potential views of sceptics. ( a 20 % diverse audience), all of those claims are stated in the methodology of the Moon paper. Yet they are shall we say ‘incorrect’..

    and Lewandowsky and his authors were informed about the ‘errors’ 7 months prior to actual publishing of the paper in the journal.

    which gave them ample time to correct the error..

    publishing a paper, stating you did something, when in fact you did not, and knew about the ‘errors’ prior to publishing is academic misconduct in my book.

    1. Barry,

      The hypothesis I was referring to when allegations of misconduct were made was in relation to “Skeptic blogs not contacted”. They contacted five Skeptic blogs and I think this is accepted by Skeptics now. So this hypothesis is false.

      Whether or not SKS posted the LOG12 survey or whether Lewandowsky made data available for that paper is not relevant to this hypothesis.

      1. Rachel M, I don’t care to get involved in this post, but I hate seeing basic, factual misrepresentations. As such, allow me to offer a correction.

        Skeptics, by far and large, did not claim no skeptic blogs were contacted. Even the bloggers who suggested they were not contacted indicated they were not contacted by Stephan Lewandowsky (and many offered the caveat they could have simply missed an e-mail from him). As it turns out, they were not. Lewandowsky never contacted any skeptical bloggers. He intentionally hid is involvement with the survey from those bloggers by having a research assistant make the contact. In his ethics application, he specifically asked for approval to engage in this deception. When bloggers tried to figure out who Lewandowsky had contacted, they couldn’t because of this deception.

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to criticize people for being unable to find contact from Lewandowsky when he never contacted them. I don’t think it’s reasonable to criticize people for being unable to find contact from an unnamed research assistant with no disclosed link to the work. But even if you disagree, Lewandowsky had the opportunity to clarify things right from the start. When people said they couldn’t find any contact from him, he could have explained they wouldn’t because he had hidden his involvement from them. He didn’t. Instead, he just mocked them.

        In other words, Lewandowsky built deception into his original study. Then, when people failed to discover the deception, he chose not to disclose it. Instead of explaining what he’d done so the discussion could move forward, he mocked people and intentionally kept everyone in the dark. In the process, he exaggerated what his critics were saying to paint them as being unreasonable even when their comments were completely accurate (e.g. his listing of lucia’s relevant comments in the data file).

        Incidentally, nobody should accept Lewandowsky’s claim to have contacted five skeptical bloggers. One person he had contacted was a news aggregator, not a blogger. Another was a pro-global warming blogger. Not only are you accepting a false narrative, you’re accepting a claim that is wrong on its face.

      2. Comments that supposedly supported this hypothesis, were Richard Betts’. They didn’t try very hard, he at no point said they did not. Less odd actions (Lews fasilure to, why not simply say he had sent them out on the date with the subject heading, or email those concerned to alert them to the discussion) generated the circumstances where one or 2 people thought just maybe he hadn’t. Purely an artificial situation.

        Rather than ‘thinking’ sceptics accept it.. They absolutely did, as soon as the sceptics discovered that they had been revived and Hanich sent out the emasils.. A few people commenting mast not have seen this to a few days later, and repeated this, but were soon corrected.. Is this really conspiracies. Or just adults asking reasonable questions, given the odd behaviour of Lewandowsky.

        Bear in mind if he had released the suplentary material at the time for the paper, instead of just the paper. The names of the 5 blogs were in the supplementary material all along!

        But if he had done that, a few people would have been annoyed, at the time of the press release, that he claimed to have contacted them, and any journalist asking them about it would have found the decpoetion Hanich, not Lewandowsky, and that Lewandowsky had no idea, if some of them had ever received the emails, they could have gone straight into a spam filter and never have been seen.. And the journalist might have asked a few more question.. How many sceptics said moon conspiracy and other conspiracies, 2 out of 1300!! Get real they might have said

        The blogs that were surveyed (also not named in the paper, but only in the not yet published supplementary material) theory all hate sceptics, and had comments about the fun they had with the survey, and not even the deniers would be dumb enough to fall for it. The journalist in the environmental sections would recognise those sceptic hatg blogs, and be very sceptical about results from an anonymous online survey

        Journalists would have looked a lot more critically at it. At least that is my opinion

      3. Brandon… If indeed the deception took place it makes sense to do so. One doesn’t want to bias a study by receiving different behaviour based on ‘who’ was doing the study. That’s basic and obvious. That’s why they have blind studies in medicine. They don’t want to bias the sample.

        As for the rest of your claims… [No food fight, please. -w]

      4. AnOilMan, your response is weird. You claim:

        But so far you’ve demonstrated a shock lack of knowledge about study bias. I’m not sure I’d want to hear more from you.

        Yet I’ve said nothing about whether or not Stephan Lewandowsky’s decision to hide his involvement when doing the study was wrong. I’ve only criticized him for hiding his deception after the study was already completed. Whether or not he continued the deception after the study was already completed could not possibly bias the study.

        Not only are you arguing against against a point I’ve never made, you’re saying you might choose to ignore me based upon it. That’s disturbing.

        As for the rest of your claims… Frankly I can’t keep up with the antics of the other guys supporting your position.

        Believe me, I agree. Too many people comment in ways they can’t reaonably expect readers to follow. I don’t get it. That said:

        If you had a single clear link that lays out all your concerns in point form, I’d probably look at it.

        I’ve done exactly that on multiple occasions for a number of different topics. I’ve pretty much never gotten any substantial response from a person on the other “side.” That’s even been true when I was criticizing a skeptic.

        For example, I spent a fair amount of time demonstrating why the results published by Stephan Lewandowsky were meaningless. The reason he was able to find a correlation between skepticism and conspiratorial ideation is his data violated basic requirements of the correlation test he performed. When that happens, you can get “statistically significant” correlation between things when there is actually no correlation at all. Nobody has deigned to respond to it, even when I provide a clear and simple writeup.

        It doesn’t get my hopes up for people addressing more complicated matters when they won’t address simple and indisputable issues. I’ve yet to find a single person who will say Lewandowsky’s argument is obviously fallacious, despite the fact anyone who understands formal logic can immediately spot the problem if you write just a single line.

      5. I guess I ought to provide that single line. Lewandowsky’s argument can be expressed in formal logic as:

        A → (¬B) ∴ (¬A) → B.

        Where A is “believes in global warming” and B is “believes in conspiracies.” The → means “leads to”, ¬ means “not” and ∴ means “therefore.” Translating this into English gives:

        People who believe in global warming don’t believe in conspiracies, therefore people who don’t believe in global warming believe in conspiracies.

        That is exactly what Lewandowsky’s study showed, and it is obvious nonsense.

        This is indisputable if you look at his data. His data shows almost no responses from people claiming to believe in conspiracies. Of those who do, almost none claim to be skeptics. Statistical tests can show the weight these responses contribute to Lewandowsky’s results, but a simpler approach is to just remove all of them. That is, you can remove every response from a person claiming to believe in conspiracies. You can remove every response from a person who claims to be skeptical of global warming.

        It won’t matter. You’ll still find a “statistically significant” correlation between skeptics and conspiracy theorists. I repeat, you’ll find a correlation between skeptics and conspiracy theorists even if you have no data about skeptics or conspiracy theorists.

        And you can do the same thing for any A and B. Had the respondents to Lewandowsky’s survey been mostly from skeptics instead of non-skeptics, the results would “show” believing in global warming correlates with conspiratorial ideation.

      6. > Translating this into English gives: “People who believe in global warming don’t believe in conspiracies, therefore people who don’t believe in global warming believe in conspiracies.”

        A quote would be nice.

      7. Brandon: You say that you arrived some how at this from the paper. “People who believe in global warming don’t believe in conspiracies, therefore people who don’t believe in global warming believe in conspiracies.”

        It does not show this. [OilMan can’t resist taunting, -w (2014-05-07, 12:14 EDT)]

        You are over interpreting what it says, and ascribing completely new meaning to it. Period.

        There is no analysis of the climate change denial community in that paper, just one component of it. I’ve long ascribed the issues, to;
        A) Ignorance (most people don’t know what science is, where to find it, or how its done)
        B) Political Manipulation [Oil shills! -w (2014-05-07, 12:14 EDT)]
        C) Political Ideology (this is nuts… of course science doesn’t have an ideology. It has facts.)
        D) Conspiracy Theorists (don’t know many there are, but they are vocal)

        [And oil shills -w (2014-05-07, 12:14 EDT)]

        All of this is my personal opinion based on my experiences and reading the Recursive Fury paper. You can find the paper here;

  15. Rachel you say in a comment the ethics approval being broken is just not he case… How do you come to this.

    I have seen the ethics request from Lewandowsky, to the ethics officer, he said they would observe, no direct participation of any sort…

    I have shown a number of example where they directly interacted, in an atagonistic manner with named eople in the paper. This is breaking the ethics approval.

    The ethics expert report is not available to see, lewandowsky, I have shown deletes any comments about Marriott breaking the terms of the ethics approval… So were the ethics review at UWA even aware of this, they certainly did NOT ask any of the critics, any questions…

    Were the ethics people aware of Marriott’s and Cook’s conflicts, we do not know.
    And of. Course, the failings ethically of this paper, were also failing of the ethics processes at UWA, they were investigating themselves..

    Frontiers were aware of the issues, if UWA gave the paper a clean ethics bill of health, Yet Frontiers knew of the failing. I personally told a frontiers senior editor of Marriots interactions, and publicly attacking me in the research period, it obviously left Frontiers with a problem. UWA said nothing wrong, Frontiers could see, a lot wrong and quite rightly decided to retract the paper, against the authors wishes.

    [Frontiers -Barry] tried to let the retraction go gently with a joint letter cwithbthe authors.

    But then the author went to press inteviews , articles, etc saying Frontiers gave in to bullying and intimidation. Which Frontiers knew, and have stated is just not true..

    And here we are today..

    Sorry for any typos, grammar, in the above, most recent comments, trying to comment on a tablett, not very well.. 😦

    1. Barry, I can’t comment directly on this aspect because I haven’t seen the ethics approval report and I haven’t seen the interaction you had with Marriott in blog comments. All I know is that Frontiers made the announcement on their site that there were no ethical issues with the paper. I know that Frontiers have retracted the paper, but I was not aware that this was because of a breach of ethics.

      1. have you not read the 2 statement that i emailed you . and Professors Markrams comments about the authors, activism that abuses science.. first statement was Frontierstrying to let authos go gently (it was a retraction forced on them by Frontiers), follow up statements when the authors, started attacking Frontiers publicly.

        Mariotts interaction is listed here (in part, 1st few comments by me))

        of course, if like UWA ethics department, if people do not look, you cannot see.

        The authors, rather unwisely I think, went on PR offensive, Dana’s Guardian article (which briefly appeared the day before the retraction at Skeptical Science), a video, interviews, claiming that the journal gave in to bullying and intimidation.

        Which prompted the journal editorial team to respond (no lawyers this time):

        And for the co-founder of Frontiers to respond again: (with very clear reasons – no lawyer this time) explaining why

        Prof Henry Markram, then added this comment […]

        [Barry then copy-pastes another swath of text. -w, (2014-05-07, 8:32 EDT)]

      2. Lewandowsky’s email to the ethics office at UWA released by FOI – observe, no direct participation of any sort.

        some commentary about the ethics approval here:

        more detailed commentary here:

        note the dates, Lewandowsky was collecting responses 10 days before he even sort ethics approval,(confirmed in an email to R Owyns, VC of research) and the authors were interacting with people. UWA ethics policy states that would make the research void as well.

  16. Barry,

    I’m working full-time at the moment and I haven’t got the time to respond to all your comments right now. Shouldn’t you be in bed fast asleep by now?

    1. I’d just delete all their posts… And replies including mine, and close off the article. It’s just too crazy to keep up with.

      1. [UKISS rips off his shirt. -w]

  17. I’m just letting everyone know that I’ve given Willard Administrative privileges on my blog.

      1. [No food fight, please. -w]

      2. [Mod: this comment has been removed by the moderator. No name calling please]

      3. [No food fight, please. -w]

  18. Brandon,

    “Skeptics, by far and large, did not claim no skeptic blogs were contacted.”

    Here are some quotes:

    To make things worse for Lewandowsky, Simon at Australian Climate Madness has submitted an FOI request for his correspondence related to the paper. Lewandowsky has admitted that no sceptic blogs carried his survey, but I think it’s fair to say that nobody actually believes his convenient claim that his approaches to sceptics were spurned. If nothing is turned up by the FOI request it seems likely that the allegations will be widened to include a clear and deliberate intention to commit academic fraud.

    and –

    Lew made up the “5 skeptical blogs” bit. That much we know.

    and –

    If Lewandowky’s claim about 5 skeptic blogs was fabricated, it appears to me that it would be misconduct under university policies. The person responsible for investigating complaints appears to be the Pro VIce Chancellor (Research) ,Robyn Owens,

    and –

    Incidentally, if he claimed to have offered the survey to a number of sceptic blogs who refused to cooperate, but if in fact he hadn’t – that would be scientific fraud, wouldn’t it?

    There are more.

  19. Brandon,

    “I don’t think it’s reasonable to criticize people for being unable to find contact from Lewandowsky when he never contacted them.”

    I’m not criticising them. I simply find it curious. The reaction, in my view, is unusual. If someone tells me they’ve contacted me and I can’t find their email, I will assume it’s gone to spam or maybe there’s some gitch in my mail or perhaps they’ve got the wrong email address for me. I wouldn’t assume that they’d lied about sending it.

    It was the same reaction with the blocked IP. Rather than assume that it’s a technical issue, the person assumed they were being deliberately targeted.

    1. [Barry repeats the Hanich story, reminisces over moderation, and then repeats again the Hanich story. -w, (2014-05-17, 8:35 EDT)]

      Earlier you said if ethics approval were broken for Fury, the paper should be withdrawn, I have explained and shown that it was Marriott and Cook directly interacting, multiple times with people named in the paper. . with people that they had a conflict of interest with.

      So do you think that this is grounds for withdrawal, given ethics request/approval said observe and no direct participation of any sort. This is psychology not climate science, I’m curious that you seem to find little wrong..

      Prof Markram did, he is a neuroscientist that clearly understands about ethics.

      1. [A few hours after taking his leave, Barry returns to whine. -w (2014-05-07, 14:53 EDT)]

  20. [Three cheers for moderation! -w, 2014-05-07, 8:01 EDT]

  21. [Please, don’t mind me. Rachel asked two questions. -w (2014-05-07, 12:12 EDT)]

  22. “* The above two are on the proviso that the research does not harm the commenters themselves.”

    Actually, you don’t have to do harm before there is a problem, you simply have to inadequately protect the subjects from harm.

  23. “Is conspiracist ideation a mental illness? Perhaps in some circumstances it could be a symptom of mental illness”

    It’s a psychological diagnostic. That is, you use it in the classification of a disorder.

    By way of analogy, having a fever of 102°F is a medical diagnostic. Publishing these sorts of medical diagnostics normally requires written consent from the subject, if the subject’s identity is revealed. That is the statement at the University IRB level.

    Individual journals, like blogs, are free to exercise greater discretion, but usually their bar is set much lower (think legal actionability).

  24. The last sentence didn’t come out right… I meant to say “are free to exercise greater control”, suggesting that they would allow things through in principle that the individual’s IRB might not approve.

  25. [Please. No taunting. I mean it. -w (2015-05-08, 12:22 EDT)]

    Seriously, though, if scholars can’t analyze published words any more, you might as well close every single literature department at every university on the planet and fire every single literature, movie and music critic. Heck, you’d have to close down American Idol, Burundi’s next Topmodel and all the other shows where people are publicly analyzed. If analyzing publications in a scholarly way is not safe, then, by consequence, any analysis of literature, film, music, politicians, etc. is also off limits. This is certainly not a road anybody wants to go down. Deniers who claim that public analysis is unethical, ought to spend equal time bringing down American Idol – after all, it’s the same thing!

    tl;dr: If you don’t want to be publicly analyzed, don’t go on stage.

    1. Hi Brembs,

      I love this thread now. It makes me laugh every time I read it.

      I agree with you! It also seems ironic that the people who complain about having their comments edited and who cry censorship because of this, should then complain about having their comments published in a paper.

      1. This is missing the point:

        Nobody says that their words shouldn’t be published with their approval. Many of the complaints was the misleading analysis of what they actually said.

        If you are going to publish an analysis of other people’s words in a peer review publication, you do have responsibility for ethical integrity on your own part in protecting the subjects of your study from harm.

        When you make erroneous claims about their assertions that can be viewed false and defamatory, you have obviously failed to so.

        [Then Carrick explains “playing the ref.” -w (2014-05-08, 12:16 EDT)]

      2. Carrick: The thing is that in publication… anything goes. Its a little like parliament that way.

        If these people want to protect their privacy… put the comments behind a log in which prevents anyone from data mining on legal grounds.

        [Someone, somewhere else is wrong. -w (2014-05-08, 12:14 EDT)]

      3. AnOilMan, the point you need to keep in mind is this is a publicly funded research study published in a peer reviewed psychological research journal involving human subjects.

        “Anything goes” certainly does not apply to this form of research.

      4. Carrick,

        “Nobody says that their words shouldn’t be published with their approval.”

        I don’t think academics should have to get prior approval to use publicly available blog comments in research. If someone writes a comment on a public blog on the web then they are accepting that this comment can be used and quoted elsewhere. If people do not want this to happen then they should not write comments that are in the public domain.

        “Many of the complaints was the misleading analysis of what they actually said.”

        What was misleading about their analysis?

        “When you make erroneous claims about their assertions …”

        I’m not sure what claims were erroneous either?

    2. Since Bjorn has commented, I just wanted to add that I enjoyed his posts about the Recursive Fury issue, in particular how he dealt with some of the commenters 🙂

      1. [No. Taunting. Please. OK? -w (2014-05-08, 12:19 EDT)]

      2. I found this comment by Udik to hit the mark:

        Funny, it’s your third recursively furious blog post in a row about the “Recursive Fury” affair. Now you’re shouting against Markram, guilty of “siding with the denialists” and drawing analogies with things that have almost nothing in common with peer reviewed scientific research, like literary criticisms and political analysis, and even judges of reality shows. Really, if you only could see yourself from the outside..

        I’m not sure what Bjorn’s expertise is, but it seems to have nothing to do with human-subjects-related peer-reviewed research.

      3. Squirrels,

        We have a pro and a contra. That should be enough.

        Please send more gratitude to Bjoern or raise more concerns about Bjoern at Bjoern’s.

        Thank you for your understanding,


      4. Carrick,

        “I’m not sure what Bjorn’s expertise is, but it seems to have nothing to do with human-subjects-related peer-reviewed research.”

        What’s your area of expertise?

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