Lewandowsky et al 2012 from two alternative philosophies of science

The following comment was made on Joanne Nova’s blog, in response to a comment by Jonathan Fordsham that Stephen Lewandowsky did not know what he was getting into by publishing his paper and the subsequent defence of that paper.

Whilst Lewandowsky may not have known what he was getting into, the aim of the paper was to find further reasons to dogmatically dismiss any views that question the established orthodoxy. It is from a view of science that sees conformity and belief in that orthodoxy as the mark of a scientist. From this conformity is the importance of opinion polls and declarations of belief by scientific bodies to this view. Promoting evidence or hypotheses that contradicts orthodoxy risks being branded a heretic or denier.

The alternative, “Popperian” view of science is that progress is often made by over-turning existing hypotheses, or subsuming them within more profound theories. Getting results that contradict hypotheses is a cause for celebration. It then raises a whole series of questions. In this view of science, belief in a specific hypothesis is dangerous. People do not like having their beliefs contradicted, and it would be hugely damaging psychologically to constantly attempt to undermine one’s core beliefs. Belief instead is in finding new understanding of the world by the most rigorous method.

The questionnaire, despite all its biases, clearly showed that the vast majority of respondents, whether skeptic or alarmist rejected cranky conspiracy theories. Lewandowsky’s theory about climate “deniers” having a conspiracist orientation was clearly contradicted by the evidence. A team of people then spent 18 months producing the paper. There is strong circumstantial evidence that the time was spent manipulating the data, choosing the best statistical methods to corroborate their story, and carefully phrasing what they wrote to claim the opposite of what the data revealed.

The “orthodox” view of science was clearly Lewandowsky’s enemy when the evidence contradicted his hypothesis. He could not publish the full results for risk of his status as a scientist and for future funding of his work. The “Popperian” view would have still allowed publication, as it falsifies a hypothesis that Lewandowsky and others believe in.

Kevin Marshall.


  1. Brian H

     /  11/10/2012

    There is a theory that people become psychologists to try to handle their own difficulties, generally unsuccessfully. L., the cognitive psychologist, has certainly had no luck in mitigating his own cognitive disease!

  2. Brian
    Agree on both points. I’ve known a few with “difficulties” enter the field of psychology and the hapless Lewandowsky seemingly suffers a degree of cognitive bias!

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