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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Judith Curry attacks open data advocates and encourages people who try to suppress science

Sou | 1:42 AM Go to the first of 32 comments. Add a comment

No-one will be surprised to learn that Judith Curry supports vicious attacks on scientists who publish on controversial topics (archived here). She gave up science for blogging her science denial a few years ago. Now she's turned her attack onto two people who have been strong advocates for open science, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky and Professor Dorothy Bishop.

Stephan Lewandowsky is Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol. He is a cognitive scientist who has published numerous papers on different topics. He has been attacked by climate science deniers for his research into what makes human beings so irrational that they will reject science in favour of manufacturing conspiracy theories of the utter nutter kind. Conspiracy theorists don't like that. He is very supportive of open research and just this month was co-author of a paper called: "The Peer Reviewers' Openness Initiative: Incentivising Open Research Practices through Peer Review". The short intro suggests a bit of a stick might encourage researchers to make their data available:

Openness is one of the central values of science. Open scientific practices such as sharing data, materials, and analysis scripts alongside published articles have many benefits, including easier replication and extension studies, increased availability of data for theory-building and meta-analysis, and increased possibility of review and collaboration even after a paper has been published. Although modern information technology makes sharing easier than ever before, uptake of open practices had been slow. We suggest this might be in part due to a social dilemma arising from misaligned incentives, and propose a specific, concrete mechanism – reviewers withholding comprehensive review – to achieve the goal of creating the expectation of open practices as a matter of scientific principle. 

Dorothy Bishop is Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at Oxford.  She does research to help understand the nature and causes of language impairments in children, as well as research on autistic spectrum disorder and developmental dyslexia. I wasn't familiar with her work, so naturally I turned to Google. I found her blog. Here is what Dorothy Bishop wrote in one of her blog articles, under the heading "Who's afraid of Open Data". Her article was all about why open data is desirable. She listed common objections and addressed each one in turn. For example, she addresses the concern that the scientist who has done all the hard work just hands over data for free to someone else  the "freeloader" argument:
These are mostly benefits to the scientific community, but what about the 'freeloader' argument? Why should others benefit when you have done all the hard work? In fact, when we consider that scientists are usually receiving public money to make scientific discoveries, this line of argument does not appear morally defensible. But in any case, it is not true that the scientists who do the sharing have no benefits. For a start, they will see an increase in citations, as others use their data. And another point, often overlooked, is that uncurated data often become unusable by the original researcher, let alone other scientists, if it is not documented properly and stored on a safe digital site. Like many others, I've had the irritating experience of going back to some old data only to find I can't remember what some of the variable names refer to, or whether I should be focusing on the version called final, finalfinal, or ultimate. I've also had the experience of data being stored on a kind of floppy disk, or coded by a software package that had a brief flowering of life for around 5 years before disappearing completely.

And she addresses the situation where people want data so that they can distort the results and misrepresent research, or worse, try to bully a journal into withdrawing a legitimate paper (as Judith Curry's pet conspiracy theorists have done):
Fears about misuse of data can be well-justified when researchers are working on controversial areas where they are subject to concerted attacks by groups with vested interests or ideological objections to their work. There are some instructive examples here and here. Nevertheless, my view is that such threats are best dealt with by making the data totally open. If this is done, any attempt to cherrypick or distort the results will be evident to any reputable scientist who scrutinises the data. This can take time and energy, but ultimately an unscientific attempt to discredit a scientist by alternative analysis will rebound on those who make it. In that regard, science really is self-correcting. If the data are available, then different analyses may give different results, but a consensus of the competent should emerge in the long run, leaving the valid conclusions stronger than before.
As Professor Bishop points out, while such attacks are abominable, and take time from academics that could otherwise be spent on research (not to mention the personal cost to them and their families, from defamatory comments all over), in the end the truth will out. Remember, Recursive Fury bounced back stronger than ever in the shape of Recurrent Fury. And for all the efforts of Richard Tol and some grad student from the USA to suppress it, John Cook and co's 97% paper has been downloaded 449,069 times!

Now Judith Curry could have spent five minutes on some research before she launched her attack on two strong proponents of open data. Professors Lewandowsky and Bishop have done a heap more than Judith ever has to get scientists to make their data available. She could also have taken five minutes to digest the article in Nature that she took exception to. Here are some excerpts:
Transparency has hit the headlines. In the wake of evidence that many research findings are not reproducible, the scientific community has launched initiatives to increase data sharing, transparency and open critique. As with any new development, there are unintended consequences. Many measures that can improve science — shared data, post-publication peer review and public engagement on social media — can be turned against scientists....

It is or should be obvious that the authors of the Nature article are very strongly in favour of open data:
...Numerous professional bodies, educational institutions, government agencies and journals have convened meetings during the past few years to put science under the microscope. Issues such as reproducibility and conflicts of interest have legitimately attracted much scrutiny and have stimulated corrective action. As a result, the field is being invigorated by initiatives such as study pre-registration and open data.

This article, though was how to protect scientists and scientific research from scurrilous attacks by people like the mob who bully journals into withdrawing papers on indefensible grounds, just because the mob don't like the findings. People like the damaged goods that Judith Curry is actively encouraging. From the Nature article:
Similar attention must be devoted to stressors and threats to science that arise in response to research that is considered inconvenient. The same institutions and bodies that have scrutinized science must also start a conversation about how to protect it. 

When it comes to blog attacks, the authors suggest:
Scientists should ignore critics who are abusive or illogical and those that make the same points repeatedly despite rebuttals. Internet trolling has been associated with sadism and psychopathy. Engagement with such bad-faith actors can imperil scientists' well-being in a way that university ethics committees would never condone in research on human subjects.

Most of you will recognise offenders immediately. I don't need to name names and I'd prefer it if you didn't either. If you're in any doubt, go read Judith Curry's article. They are among the mob she is defending. Judith mentioned one serial harasser, defamer and stalker five times, and he has commented nine times (so far). She mentioned another vindictive harasser who has commented six times (so far). Defamation, stalking, using intimidatory tactics with journal editors to try to get them to withdraw research papers, and goodness knows what else behind the scenes.

This is the sort of reprehensible activity that Judith Curry supports. More than that - she is actively encouraging it. She herself isn't likely to be harassed. The nutters are mostly in her court attacking those outside the court. Scientists and pro-science people are generally (not always) better behaved.

Unlike Lewandowsky and Bishop, I haven't seen Judith publish anything that will progress the move to open data. The evidence suggests that, contrary to what she pretends to support, Judith wants to suppress research she doesn't like. She strongly promoted a grad student who falsely alleged fraud and habitually calls for withdrawal of papers because he doesn't like the findings.

Judith supports and encourages the sort of people who don't want open data. People who want to bury science. People who have not only called for retraction of papers on no grounds other than their ideological objection to the research, but succeeded in bullying and intimidating a journal so that it did withdraw a paper.

Judith Curry might support the repression of academic research and promote people who spend all their time defaming scientists. That is what the Nature article was all about. How best to deal with scurrilous attacks from people wanting to stop scientific research, while progressing the move to open data. So if you are an academic publishing in a controversial field go read the article. Your field may not be controversial from a scientific perspective, it might garner a lot of opposition from people who are ideologically opposed to the field, the findings, or just to their fellow human beings and the world at large. If because of your research you've ever attracted people you suspected were dangerous either in a real physical sense or otherwise, or seriously damaged, (like some of the people Judith encourages) then that article is definitely worth a read. It's got checklists and tips for how to deal with people who harass, stalk, intimidate and libel (don't, if you can avoid it).

Judith has no answers. Instead of supporting open research, she supports and encourages the people who oppose research.

Just another string in her anti-science bow I guess.

References and further reading

Lewandowsky, Stephan, and Dorothy Bishop. "Research integrity: Don't let transparency damage science." Nature 529, no. 7587 (2016): 459-461. doi:10.1038/529459a (open access)

Morey, R.D., Chambers, C.D., Etchells, P.J., Harris, C.R., Hoekstra, R., Lakens, D., Lewandowsky, S., Morey, C.C., Newman, D.P., Schönbrodt, F.D. and Vanpaemel, W., 2016. The Peer Reviewers' Openness Initiative: incentivizing open research practices through peer review. Royal Society Open Science, 3(1), p.150547. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150547 (open access)

Who's afraid of Open Data - article by Dorothy Bishop at BishopBlog, November 2015

Curses! It's a conspiracy! The Fury is Back Thrice Over - HotWhopper - July 2015

Cook et al Paper Confirms 97% Scientific Consensus - Prompting Silly Conspiracy Theories from Anthony Watts and WUWT - HotWhopper - May 2013


  1. The signal to noise ratio at Climate Etc. is gradually dropping down to the level of WUWT.

    I did enjoy ATTP's response to Richard Tol's latest in a never-ending series of attacks on Lewandowsky and Cook:

    Replicating, or not, this does not require anything from them. It simply requires you to do some actual work. You could easily have done this in the time you’ve spent on social media claiming that their study is pointless.

    Tol is an interesting case, with a quasi-obsession regarding studies whose conclusions he agrees are largely correct and with issues and questions he already knows the answers to.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. No he didn't, Dick.

    4. I'm not in a position to judge which category Richard Tol falls under.

      (I don't believe it's because English is not his native tongue. If that's his problem, there's always Google translate.)

    5. I haven't checked, but is Richard complaining - on Twitter - about being censored?

    6. You ain't seen nothin yet. Judy is determined to leave no depths unfathomed. How low can she go? This low

      What might trigger pushing the reset button?  Well in the U.S., election of any of the Republican presidential candidates might do it.  Funding priorities for scientific research and energy policy would change. Many scientists would be relieved, I’m sure others would be horrified.   If the U.S. climate change funding were to be redirected to be predominantly for natural climate variability, would the rats desert the sinking funding ship and start focusing on natural variability?

      ...From the policy perspective, failure to implement meaningful reductions in carbon emission and to change/improve the climate in a material way could promote a rethinking of this whole thing, but it will be a decade at least before any meaningful evaluation can be made.

    7. "If the U.S. climate change funding were to be redirected to be predominantly for natural climate variability, would the rats desert the sinking funding ship and start focusing on natural variability?"

      Has JC blessed us with the logic behind her rejection of EVERY ATTRIBUTION STUDY EVER?

    8. And what exactly are those research projects on "natural variability" that are not being funded. Isn't this just an urban legend?

    9. "If the U.S. climate change funding were to be redirected to be predominantly for natural climate variability, would the rats desert the sinking funding ship and start focusing on natural variability?"

      No, "the rats" would not desert the "sinking funding ship". They would point out that the new government is immorally neglecting a profoundly important scientific and social issue, and steadfastly maintain the understanding of humanity's (currently greater than 100%) contribution to the warming of the planet.

      Curry's anti-science and political partisanship are starkly apparent these days. She is a discredit to her profession, and to the extent of her negative influence she is a danger to the planet.

    10. I've no idea. I do recall Judith supporting a project where state legislators wanted to impose political constraints on the science. They would not have been permitted to take human factors into account. No scientists applied for the grant under those imposed restrictions AFAIK.

      She presents a very warped view of how climate science is researched. All factors, natural and otherwise, are studied. It's another sign that she's lurched into utter nutter territory. I guess she doesn't read climate journals.

      Journal of Climate


      Climate Dynamics

    11. How exactly is the present CO2 warming "unnatural variability"? It follows every natural law we know about, does it not? It's "natural" in every way. Every single IPCC report has been about "natural variability" as far as I can tell.

      Apparently she wants scientists to exclude a set of variables from a full analysis of what is "naturally" occurring for political/philosophical reasons. What a profoundly unscientific point of view to take.

    12. A few people tweeted they want to know what Richard Tol said. It's not interesting. He just made up another one of his silly little lies. It's one of his trademarks.

    13. So scientists who accept the consensus are now rats? Sounds to me like she is putting herself forward to be the Senator McCarthy of a Ted Cruz administration.

  2. I once offered a word (or Tweet) of support to Judith Curry when she was subjected to what I thought was an unfair fishing expedition by Congressman Raul Grijalva. She must surely be aware of the difference between intrusive harassment and requests for open data. But you would never know it from reading her latest piece.

  3. Curry is quite the piece of work. As someone said elsewhere, it's time for her to push for the UAH v.6 code to be revealed in all its glory.

    One thing I've liked about Nasa space missions is the data always becomes public, although there are too-long delays in some cases. Other countries aren't nearly as transparent with their space programs. Designing data to be public from the beginning makes it much easier to be transparent.

  4. Dr. Curry still thinks Steve McIntyre is credible, after Deep Climate and John Mashey (strike)exposed his disingenuous work(/strike)tore him a new one regarding the Wegman Report? Sheesh.

    And, I will respect Sou's wishes and not name names, but the same 4 - 6 individuals are all over the place screaming like stuck pigs any time Dr. Lewandowsky and/or John Cook publish anything. How banally predictable they are.

    P.S. It would be really nice, Sou, if you could get the HTML 'strike' tag allowed on your site. It's such an effective anti-denier tool ;-)

  5. "Judith has no answers. Instead of supporting open research, she supports and encourages the people who oppose research."

    Judy has attracted a certain audience. If she doesn't perform for them, they will turn on her and/or abandon her.

    What would we see if, several years back when they started whinging -sorry, their trenchant and focused critiques, they had rolled up their sleeves and designed and conducted studies into the scientific view on climate, applying their loudly and oft-proclaimed principles?

    They would have published a number of papers, they could still be nyah-nyah-ing at their favorite targets for supposed methodological shortcomings, they would have confirmed the consensus, and AGW proceeds pretty much as projected.

    Judy could have had a quiet retirement, instead of this squeaky rat-wheel existence..

  6. "...on the version called final, finalfinal, or ultimate."

    I just hate when I have to start looking at timestamps on files to get a clue which might be the 'best' version :)

    1. That is why version control systems are made.

    2. They are all the best, each in its own special way.

    3. That is why version control systems are made.

      True. But depending on your methodology, the latest version is not necessarily the best version :-/

    4. They are all the best, each in its own special way.

      The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from. --Andrew S. Tanenbaum

  7. "John Cook and co's 97% paper has been downloaded 449,069 times!"

    The counter seems to be static... I just downloaded it and then refreshed the page, and it's still at 449,069.

    1. Now at 452,220. They only update it weekly, I believe.

    2. At that rate it'll be half a million in just under four months...

  8. Curry says:

    "Careerism leads a scientist not to want to have their research be challenged or audited, for fear of damage to their reputation that is shallowly based on such things as publication numbers, funding, memberships on prestigious boards, press releases and citation numbers (rather than an interest in learning and making meaningful contributions that advance science)."

    I snorted tea over my keyboard reading that...

  9. With a victim bully, there is no way out. They will always find a way to claim their laziness or inability to do their work is the other guy's fault for persecuting them. Judith Curry is a classic case.

    For those not in the US, it should become obvious that a very large majority (if not all) current Republicans on stage don't have an honest bone in their body, and that they are all bullies or fanatics.

    It is unfortunate that people are both clueless and worried, and looking for heroes and villains instead of solutions. It's too much work, and would require getting out more, to face reality and do the hard work required.

  10. It is really painful to read the section where Curry lists her 'favourite excerpts' from the article and comments on those. She seems to miss the point each time, and sometimes to shoot her self in the foot.

    "Many organized attacks call for more data, often with the aim of finding an analysis method that makes undesirable results go away [JC note: most would call that ‘skepticism’]."

    It is certainly sound skeptisism to investige how sensitive certain results are to the choice of methods, but it is not to only focus on finding a method that leads to a preconcieved (negative) result and to then pretend that this is the final answer.

    1. Judith's good at shooting her feet.

      BTW - that part sounds like the Dixon/Jones attempt to make results go away by using a flawed analysis.

      Only a fake sceptic would call that "skeptisism".

    2. BTW - that part sounds like the Dixon/Jones attempt to make results go away by using a flawed analysis.

      Steve McIntyre's raison d'être.

    3. Stevie likes to throw out any data which might lead to the "wrong" answer too!


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