Update: I've been getting a few visitors from ClimateAudit so I had a peep. Not satisfied with his previous rants and false accusations of "fake" and "scam" when he failed his attempt at stats, one of the most unethical people in the blogosphere, Steve McIntyre, is manufacturing yet another conspiracy theory out of emails - ha! It looks as if he's hoping to take centre stage in another cognitive science paper! (Archived here) I won't bother unpacking his diatribe. Suffice to say when you look past Steve's rhetoric at the content and break it down, his analysis is all bluster and ethics free. He doesn't have a leg to stand on.
Today Stephan Lewandowsky announced that his Recursive Fury paper is being retracted by a journal.
Why? It was not because of any problem with the paper itself from a scientific or ethical perspective. In fact, the journal did an investigation and "did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study".
No, it was because a "small number" of deniers harassed the journal. The journal made a vague reference to "legal context" and insufficient clarity of same. In other words, it caved when bombarded with complaints from a small number of deniers (see below).
On its website page showing the abstract, there is this statement, which has been there for some time - here is the link.
This article, first published by Frontiers on 18 March 2013, has been the subject of complaints. Given the nature of some of these complaints, Frontiers has provisionally removed the link to the article while these issues are investigated, which is being done as swiftly as possible and which Frontiers management considers the most responsible course of action. The article has not been retracted or withdrawn. Further information will be provided as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.
(The journal needs to hire a webmaster, it keeps messing up the page. Compare the earlier archive here and the "fix", archived here.)
I finally found the retraction notice on another page here, which states:
Retraction of the Original Research Article: Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer and Michael Marriott Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073
In the light of a small number of complaints received following publication of the original research article cited above, Frontiers carried out a detailed investigation of the academic, ethical and legal aspects of the work. This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article. The authors understand this decision, while they stand by their article and regret the limitations on academic freedom which can be caused by legal factors.
As Stephan Lewandowsky writes:
The authors were involved in drafting the retraction statement and sanction its content: We understand the journal’s position even though we do not agree with it.
Stepping away from the Grand Vision
Frontiers in Psychology is an open access journal that says:
Our grand vision is to build an Open Science platform that empowers researchers in their daily work and where everybody has equal opportunity to seek, share and generate knowledge.
By all accounts the journal could be viewed as taking a step backwards from that "grand vision" by caving into people who object to research. I can appreciate that it's not a large publishing house and doesn't want to risk a lengthy (or any) legal battle. On the other hand, it doesn't set a good precedent. Deniers may well take it into their heads to employ similar tactics against any paper for any reason or no reason at all. I expect IOP got loads of complaints about the 97% paper - we know that Richard Tol did his best to discredit that - although his best wasn't worth a cracker. That paper ended up at the top of the list of IOP papers for 2013.
The Recursive Fury has been viewed almost 40,000 times in total - even though the full text version was taken down some time ago. Compare that with a well-cited article (81) published in the same journal the previous year, about video action games, perception and cognition, which has had less than 22,000 views in total. Or this one, which also got lots of citations (51) which has less than 1,400 views in total. You'd think the journal would want to hang onto papers that attract the public's attention.
You can download the paper now at the University of Western Australia's website - or if you prefer, you can get the paper as it stood "after rigorous peer review" from the journal's own website.
...but perhaps impacting the goal
The journal website has a goal to increase the impact of articles and their authors:
We are the first – and only – platform that combines open-access publishing with research networking, with the goal to increase the reach of publications and ultimately the impact of articles and their authors.
This action has made a bit of an impact in the deniosphere and it will be interesting to see the impact it has on the journal's authors and potential authors. Whether the action has had an impact on the authors of Recursive Fury has yet to be seen. If anything it will probably lead to more publicity for the paper, which will also be publicity for the paper's authors. I don't know if this will "increase the reach of publications" of Frontiers in Psychology, but it will most like increase the reach of publications by Professor Lewandowsky and his colleagues. And this publication in particular.
Deniers squeak and squeal "defamation" and threaten legal action
Recursive Fury is being furiously discussed all over the deniosphere. Anthony Watts has written about it (archived here) - to add to the 25 plus WUWT recursively furious protest articles on Professor Lewandowky and his work.
Graham Readfearn has written about it from a different angle. He obtained by FOI request the swag of furious emails and other correspondence sent to the University of Western Australia, where Professor Lewandowsky used to work. It won't be any surprise to inhabitants of climate blogs to see that deniers are big fat sooks and have double standards as well as being conspiracy nutters. They will write arguably libelous articles against scientists ad infinitum but as soon as the spotlight is shone on their antics they scream blue murder. Even, in some cases, threatening legal action. I guess they think government institutions aren't all bad after all.
At WUWT, Anthony wrote (archived here):
We are all scratching our heads at the “threat of libel” narrative. As far as I know, nobody in the climate skeptic community has instigated a libel lawsuit or even gotten a lawyer involved over the Lew paper. Mostly we just laugh about it.
You'd think dour old Anthony Watts spent all his time "laughing". A google search of Lewandowsky at WUWT yields 5,850 results!
Anthony doesn't know very much in any case. As Graham Readfearn wrote:
In FOI documents another climate sceptic blogger forwards a complaint they had made to the Frontiers journal. The complaint said: “I have sought legal advice which has confirmed that, as long as a reasonable number of blog readers are aware of my true identity and professional reputation (which is the case), I could potentially have a defamation action against the authors and publishers of this paper for an outright lie that was told about me.”
Later in the letter, the blogger added: “I hope that you will see that this was a clear case of quote falsification, academic misconduct and defamation and that the paper will now be permanently withdrawn.”
Graham also wrote about how Steven McIntyre made up stuff, including falsely accusing the scientists of not get ethics approval (which they did). Steven is prone to conspiracy ideation quite often, for example, the first thought that enters his mind when he can't access a website is that people are deliberately blocking his ip address! He's also very quick to falsely accuse scientists of faking and scamming.
The University of Western Australia didn't cave
The University of Western Australia is standing by the paper. It's probably a lot bigger than the Frontiers in Psychology journal and almost certainly has more expertise in law. Here is what Stephan Lewandowsky wrote, including a quote from the University's legal counsel:
Given its popularity, and given that approximately 29,300 viewers did not complain about our work, it would be a shame to deprive the public of access to this article. Because the work was conducted in Australia, I consulted with the University of Western Australia’s chief lawyer, Kim Heitman, who replied as follows:
“I’m entirely comfortable with you publishing the paper on the UWA web site. You and the University can easily be sued for any sorts of hurt feelings or confected outrage, and I’d be quite comfortable processing such a phony legal action as an insurance matter.”
— Kimberley Heitman, B.Juris, LLB, MACS, CT, General Counsel, University of Western Australia
Update: Dana Nuccitelli has a well-written piece about this at the Guardian.
Update 2: John Timmer has an article about this at ArsTechnica. Plus there are some interesting tweets including this one.
Update 3: Michael Halpern has a good article about this at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
From the WUWT comments
Despite all the articles on WUWT about the Recursive Fury paper and the Moon Landing paper, there are a lot of deniers who don't know anything about either. There are also a few WUWT commenters who are angling for a place in the follow-up to Recursive Fury, though not as many as there were when the Moon Landing paper was published. Here are some comments:
Cold in Wisconsin doesn't know what s/he is talking about but says something irrelevant anyway:
March 20, 2014 at 6:37 pm
I do think that using information for research without informing the subjects is questionable. Call it a poll or something else, but what’s to keep people from being non-serious with their answers when the intentions of the question have to be obvious? Also, how can you tell that your subjects are randomly chosen and representative when you use blogs as your population? Really to represent that type of material as Academic research is kind of laughable. I’m not sure that a high school class couldn’t improve on that scheme.
rogerknights is a conspiracy theorist who opts for "nefarious intent" (see the Recursive Fury paper) and says:
March 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm
It looks to me as though this libel-threat is a cover story to enable a face-saving distancing from the poo-paper.
Mac the Knife seems to think that Professor Lewandowsky is a climate scientist and says:
March 20, 2014 at 7:39 pm
Since when are climate pscientists qualified to conduct psychology research? Are psychologists equally qualified to conduct climate research? Is psychology required course work for climate pscientists????
It may be more appropriate and enlightening for theologists to conduct research on the climate pscientists and their true believers, m’thinks…
March 20, 2014 at 8:49 pm
The paper is actually published in full (as far as I can tell) on the US government’s NIH (National Institute of Health) website:
It gives all the appearance of having been there for a year, showing the March 18, 2013 publication date of the original paper.
I'm not sure why Fabi made this comment in this particular thread, but I think it's cute and wonder if the penny dropped about the difference between the fake Oregon Petition and the much heralded Cook13 paper when s/he says:
March 20, 2014 at 9:13 pm
Something I noticed above and it relates to the much-abused 97% figure. As referenced (correctly), it claims that 97% of climate ‘papers’… How ‘papers’ got translated to ‘scientists’ is beyond me. Not that I ever liked the 97% figure to begin with, but it should also be argued that it is research paper abstracts, and certainly not scientists.
Whereas conspiracy theorising Barry Woods theorises some more and says:
March 21, 2014 at 2:47 am
Ben was tipped off about that Skeptical Science web page, being in the google cache..
Was it a Skeptical Science insider, was it their hacker, or was there a more simple explanation to who tipped Ben Off about it…….
I wonder why SkS withdrew it, the page said embargoed to the 20th March, I wonder what happened (now the 21st)
Barry Woods is claiming some credit for harassing the journal and says (excerpt):
March 21, 2014 at 3:00 am
I complained to Frontiers about the ethical conducts and conflicts of interest and vested interest of the authors. I requested my name to be removed from the paper. Because one of the authors Marriott, (Watching the Deniers blog) had been writing over a dozen articles attacking the critics of LOG12 during the research period (ie not neutral as claimed) and more particularly, had personally attacked me, naming me (and others) on his blog Watching the Deniers.. and as such I said this compromised the paper.
Here's a link to the article that Barry took exception to. It's nothing to do with the Recursive Fury paper. Barry wrote a dumb article at WUWT protesting the findings of Doran and Zimmerman's survey of scientists about global warming. I wonder why Barry thinks that it's okay for him to attempt to blog-refute Doran and Zimmerman but it's not okay for someone else to blog-refute Barry's "arguments".
jauntycyclist hasn't bothered to read any science and is waiting for someone to read it to him or her. jauntycyclist also has strange ideas about the study of psychology and says (excerpt):
March 21, 2014 at 3:50 am
i don’t see people inventing conspiracy or in a fury. I just see people waiting for proof to claims co2 is the main driver of temps and will result in catastrophic change.
if people want to talk psychology then the word cult comes to mind? Patrick Moore uses the term cult.
En Passant queries whether it really is just "harmful fun":
March 21, 2014 at 4:46 am
Stop laughing as this is not funny. Every week these clowns collect a paycheck, many of them paid by we taxpayers.
Still think it is just harmful fun?
Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer and Michael Marriott-Hubble (2013) "Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation" Available at UWA