Lewandowsky’s setback on campaign to undermine academic pluralism and excellence

The “Recursive Fury” paper, that allegedly libelled a number of bloggers1, has been taken down2. Lead author Stephan Lewandowsky has given his reaction at Shaping tommorow’s world.

Two of the “Recursive Fury” paper authors were Prof Lewandowsky and the blogger John Cook3. In 2011 they co-wrote “The Debunking Handbook“. I ask that readers view my comments in the context of the following opening statement:-

It’s self-evident that democratic societies should base their decisions on accurate information. On many issues, however, misinformation can become entrenched in parts of the community, particularly when vested interests are involved. Reducing the influence of misinformation is a difficult and complex challenge.

My comment is copied below. In brief I try to cover:-

  • Lewandowsky’s smearing of the majority with the views expressed by a minority.
  • Total failure to empathise with alternative points of view.
  • How his appeals for academic freedom are the reverse.
  • How the false allegations and smears are used to a shutdown questions on public policy.
  • How the “Lewandowsky Episode” can become a textbook example of why promotion of pluralism is necessary in our universities.
  1. ManicBeancounter at 20:37 PM on 23 March, 2014

    Stephan Lewandowsky,
    As a professor, you should be my intellectual superior. As a scientist you should be able to provide novel explanations about your subject area that go beyond what the non-specialist would find out for themselves, but at the same time accommodate the basic understanding that the non-specialist.
    Your “Hoax” paper ignored the obvious conclusion of the data. The vast majority of respondents did not believe in the cranky conspiracy theories, regardless of their views on “climate science”. Any “conspiracist ideation” revolves around differences in the small proportions that do. That means that the vast majority of “skeptics” who do not understand will feel insulted. Morally you should have clearly stated that any conclusions only apply to a small minority. The first part of the paper’s title inferred the opposite.
    “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax”
    Out of 1145 respondents, just 2 strongly rejected “climate science” and strongly supported that faxed moon landing theory. The question was not asked of those two people if they followed that path of reasoning. Unsurprisingly, when you smear people with ideas that they find insulting they express outrage. There is nothing “confected” about this.
    There are three things that make this beyond the pale of academic freedom
    First, you do not advance knowledge, but to repress the obvious empirical statement (the vast majority do not believe in cranky conspiracy theories) with the opposite.
    Second is that the smears is to deny a group of people who you disagree with a voice.
    Third, is that you use false allegations of intellectual inferiority to evaluate climate “science”, to prevent a voice in matters of public policy. Yet the voices that you seek to repress often have far greater understanding and knowledge of economics and policy implementation than you and your fellow-travelling academics.
    Academic freedom must be protected so that ideas and knowledge that challenge society’s established beliefs can be nurtured. But that must be accompanied by a deliberate policy of pluralism, for there are none so defensive of their protecting their beliefs or ideas as those who spent their lives developing them. Professor Lewandowsky, your work in the last three years should become a textbook example of the attempts and consequences to suppress that freedom.

  2. ManicBeancounter at 06:39 AM on 24 March, 2014


    Your comment 68 shows a basic function of peer review. Correcting the obvious errors. If there is no such quality control then the demarcation between academic and non-academic literature simply collapses. Further, if the academia cannot easily distinguish the excellent from the dross, then there must be a quality control before their recommendations are passed into public policy. Much the same way are new pharmaceuticals must go through rigorous regulatory testing before being proscribed to the public.

  3. ManicBeancounter at 06:59 AM on 24 March, 2014

    My comments as 57 and 70 should be viewed in the context of the opening comment in the “The Debunking Handbook”, written by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky and accessible on the right column.

    “It’s self-evident that democratic societies should base their decisions on accurate information. On many issues, however, misinformation can become entrenched in parts of the community, particularly when vested interests are involved. Reducing the influence of misinformation is a difficult and complex challenge.”

    By any independent measure the “Hoax” and “Recursive Fury” papers are full of misinformation. The authors aim at establishing a monopoly on truth, but by their very words, and subsequent behaviour, show that they are the last people you would entrust with that monopoly. There is no better example for the need of democratic societies to promote pluralism through competition in their universities to prevent the establishment of dogma. This is particularly true in Australia and the UK, where Government’s would like their universities to be World-leading.


  1. This includes Steve McIntyre, Barry Woods, Geoff Chambers and “Foxgoose”.
  2. See BishopHill (here and here), Geoff Chambers, Steve McIntyre, Australian Climate Madness (here and here), and the Guardian.
  3. This is the same John Cook who thinks he can define the meaning of words better than a dictionary.

Kevin Marshall

Lewandowsky et al. 2012 (LOG12) – Questionnaire examined

The latest paper from Lewandowsky is

Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation : Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook1,, Klaus Oberauer and Michael Hubble

The authors explain

This article analyzes the response of the climate blogosphere to the publication of LOG12. We identify and trace the hypotheses that emerged in response to LOG12 and that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions. Using established criteria to identify conspiracist ideation, we show that many of the hypotheses exhibited conspiratorial content and counterfactual thinking.

In order to respond, it is first necessary to gain a proper understanding of the original questionnaire and the conclusions the authors reached. This posting starts with examining the forty questions to see if the questions were balanced or designed to support the authors’ hypotheses. The full list can be found at Joanne Nova’s website.

Free-market Politics Questions

1. An economic system based on free markets unrestrained by government interference automatically works best to meet human needs.
2. I support the free-market system but not at the expense of environmental quality
3. The free-market system may be efficient for resource allocation, but it is limited in its capacity to promote social justice
4. The preservation of the free market system is more important than localized environmental concerns
5. Free and unregulated markets pose important threats to sustainable development
6. The free-market system is likely to promote unsustainable consumption

There were two areas that the questionnaire tried to test around the motivated rejection of climate science – free-market ideology and conspiracist ideation. The first six questions dealt with belief in free markets. There are a number of issues.

First, those who believe in free-markets are libertarians. They value individual liberty above all else and see laissez-faire capitalism as the only means to achieve this. The reason for many rejecting climate change policies is a belief that it would lead to a suppression of individual choice. They can also see that those who oppose the “scientific” consensus are stigmatized, and criticism suppressed. They might see historical parallels in the rise of communism, Nazism and in the McCarthyist era. Without such questions, rejection of the consensus could be viewed as much shallower and more dogmatic than is actually the case.

Second is that these questions are framed by somebody who clearly does not understand nor like the market mechanism. Most free-marketers would not view it a structural system, but a spontaneous order. Nor would they see a market mechanism as being antagonistic to development or preserving the environment.

Third is that there are a large group of people who may general reject environmentalism, but be quite centrist in their political views. Conversely, there might be some people who are highly antagonist to capitalism, but also sceptical of global warming. Without questions for a broad range of political views, responses will be more polarized than is actually the case.

In conclusion, these six questions seem aimed at marginalizing sceptics.

Conspiracy Theory Questions

A total of 15 questions

7. The Iraq War in 2003 was launched for reasons other than to remove WMD from Iraq
8. A powerful and secretive group known as the New World Order are planning to eventually rule the world through an autonomous world government, which would replace sovereign governments
9. SARS was produced under laboratory conditions as a biological weapon
10. The US government had foreknowledge about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but allowed the attack to take place to as to be able to enter the Second World War.
11. US Agencies intentionally created the AIDS epidemic and administered it to Black and gay men in the 1970′s
12. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr was the results of an organized conspiracy by US government agencies such as the CIA and FBI
13. The Apollo Moon landings never happened and were stages in a Hollywood film studio
14. Area 51 in Nevada US is a secretive military base that contains hidden alien spacecraft and or alien bodies
15. The assassination of John F Kennedy was not committed by the lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, but was rather a detailed, organized conspiracy to kill the President
16. The US government allowed the 9/11 attacks to take place so that it would have an excuse to achieve foreign (eh wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) and domestic (eg attacks on civil liberties) goals that had been determined prior to the attacks
17. In July 1947, the US military recovered the wreckage of an alien craft from Roswell, New Mexico and covered up the fact
18. Princess Diana’s death was not an accident but rather an organised assassination by members of the British royal family who disliked her
19. The Oklahoma City Bombers, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicols did not act alone but rather received assistance from Neo Nazi groups
20. The claim that the climate is changing due to emissions from fossil fuels is a hoax perpetrated by corrupt scientists who wish to spend more taxpayer money on climate “research”.
21. The Coca Cola company intentionally changed to an inferior formular with the intent of driving up demand for their classic product, later reintroducing it for their financial gain.

When I first looked at these questions it struck me that some were related to the climate issue. Therefore I left them out as biasing the results.

I think there are five broad categories of question, which I have colour-coded.

Blue questions are neutral to the climate change issue.

Red questions are those that see the climate consensus as some sort of conspiracy.

Green questions are those that see motivations for rejecting the climate consensus as some sort of conspiracy.

Pink Questions are conspiracies that those who reject the climate consensus might believe in, but unrelated to the climate issue.

Brown Questions are conspiracies that those who accept the climate consensus might believe in, but unrelated to the climate issue.

What is clear is that there are no questions that ask if scepticism was underpinned by of some sort of conspiracy. A common theme is that denial being promoted by secretive funding by fossil fuel interests. For instance searching “Koch” on Desmogblog reveals 2440 hits. With such a question, there would have been symmetry. I have rated question 7 (WMD) as possibly appealing more to the climate consensus types, as they tend to be more to the left of centre and certainly are mostly anti George Bush. This was the only question NOT reported in the LOG12 paper. So two conspiracy-type questions specifically appealing to sceptics, and none (reported) that no conspiracy-type questions specifically appealing to “pro-science” types out of 14 would have been sufficient to bias the results towards “finding” that sceptics are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

Climate Change Science Questions

22. I believe that burning fossil fuels increases atmospheric temperature to some measurable degree
23. I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has increased atmospheric temperature to an appreciable degree
24. I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years will cause serious negative changes to the planet’s climate, unless there is a substantial switch to non-CO2 emitting energy sources
25. I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has caused serious negative changes to the planet’s climate

There is an complete absence of questions about future projections of accelerating warming; or of future catastrophes well in excess of anything so far observed; of the strength of the science or the uncertainties; our trust in what scientists are telling us; nor of the ability of policy to do anything successfully combat it. These are the questions that many sceptics, including myself, are grappling with. As Warren Meyer concludes, it is the projected catastrophe that sceptics “deny”. Joanna Nova, Lord Monckton, Prof Richard Lindzen, Anthony WattsBishop Hill (Andrew Montford), Prof Bob Carter and Lord Nigel Lawson all recognize to some extent that humans might be causing some global warming and that this may continue.
Many, like Lord Lawson (and myself) conclude that the policies to “combat climate change” are both ineffective and hugely harmful to economic prosperity, yet there is no recognition of this aspect. The whole thrust of the questions appears to be one of polarization, making sure that those who reject the consensus is as large as possible.

Environment questions

26. The problem of CFC;s is no longer a serious threat to the ozone layer
27. The problem of acid rain is no longer a serious threat to the global ecosystem

Two questions on the environment, that quite rightly see where people stand on other environment issues.

Personal Questions

28. In many ways my life is close to my ideal
29. The conditions of my life are excellent
30. I am satisfied with my life
31. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life
32. If I could live my life over I would change almost nothing
39. Out of 100 people in your neighborhood, how many do you think earn more than you do?
40. Out of 100 people in your country overall, how many do you think earn more than you do?

Six psychology questions. They do not appear in the conclusions of the paper. This might be because there was no relationship to respondents’ self-esteem and their views on climate science.

Established Science Questions

33. The HIV virus causes AIDS
34. Smoking causes lung cancer
35. Human CO2 emissions cause climate change
36. Out of 100 medical students how many do you think believe that the HIV Virus causes AIDS
37. Out of 100 medical students how many do you think believe that smoking causes lung cancer?
38. Out of 100 climate scientists how many do you think believe that human CO2 emissions cause climate change?

There are two sections. Three questions on what the respondent thinks about three propositions and three questions of about where the respondent thinks the scientific consensus lies. The questions are somewhat sneaky. That HIV causes AIDS and smoking causes lung cancer is quite clear to the vast majority. But human CO2 emissions causing “climate change” is something more ambiguous to anyone who thinks about the issue. Does a small amount of warming really mean a change in the climate? Is it a change of climate system – from rainforest to savannah for instance? Or is it the same climate type, but with more extreme weather events. As a political concept in the minds of the authors it might be quite clear, but to respondents who have a less polarized view of the world it may not be so clear. The ordering is quite clear though. The questions are viewed by the question-setters are equally valid, so answering the third question differently is indicating to the respondent something of how they are viewed.


The questions appear to have been devised to obtain verification of the hypothesis that rejection of climate science is motivated by belief in free-market ideology and due to a conspiracist ideation. In more colloquial language, the questions were biased to support the view that denial of climate science is due to free-market ideologues who are incapable of evaluating the evidence. The questions on free-market ideology betray the question-setters prejudices. The questions on conspiracy theories are show something of the question-setters own beliefs or a deliberate ploy to bias the results in the desired direction. The questions on climate science show a desire to show consensus amongst pro-science views, along with trying to ignore the possibility that policy questions are a matter of contention as well as the “science”.

Kevin Marshall

George Monbiot’s narrow definition of “charlatan”

Bishop Hill quotes George Monbiot

I define a charlatan as someone who won’t show you his records. This looks to me like a good [example]: http://t.co/5hDF57sI

Personally, I believe that for word definitions one should use a consensus of the leading experts in the field. My Shorter OED has the following definition that is more apt.

An empiric who pretends to wonderful knowledge or secrets.

Like John Cook’s definition of “skeptic“, Monbiot’s definition is narrower and partisan. Monbiot was referring to maverick weather forecaster Piers Corbyn. If someone has a “black box” that performs well under independent scrutiny, then they are charlatan under Monbiot’s definition, but not the OED’s. This could include the following.

  • A software manufacturer who does not reveal their computer code.
  • A pharmaceutical company that keeps secret the formulation of their wonder drug.
  • A soft drink manufacturer, who keeps their formulation secret. For instance Irn-Bru®.

The problem is that these examples have a common feature (that Piers Corbyn would claim to share to some extent). They have predictive effects that are replicated time and time again. A soft drink might just be the taste. Climate science cannot very well replicate the past, and predictions from climate models have failed to come about, even given their huge range of possible scenarios. This is an important point for any independent evaluation. The availability of the data or records matter not one iota. It is what these black boxes say about the real world that matters. I would claim that as empirical climate science becomes more sophisticated, no one person will be able to replicate a climate model. Publishing all the data and code, as Steve McIntyre would like, will make as much difference as publishing all the data and components of a mobile phone. Nobody will be able to replicate it. But it is possible to judge a scientific paper on what it says about the real world, either through predictions or independent statistical measures of data analysis.


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