The Lewandowsky hypothesis smacked again

Recall the Lewandowsky Hypothesis

In a similar inversion of normal practice, most climate deniers avoid scrutiny by sidestepping the peer-review process that is fundamental to science, instead posting their material in the internet or writing books.


Errors and mistaken assumptions cannot persist because publication of a peer-reviewed paper is only a first stage of peer review: The subsequent, even more rigorous stage of peer-review occurs after a paper’s publication and involves the scrutiny of scientific work by the entire field.

Paul Krugman – economics Nobel winner – has a different view on that.

… in the good old days you had to publish in the journals, which meant getting through the refereeing process.

My take is that the system never worked like that — or at least not in my professional lifetime.

Krugman then explains how the system does work.

First of all, policy-oriented research was never as centered on refereed journals as we liked to imagine. A lot of the discussion always took place via Federal Reserve and IMF working papers, and even reports from the research departments of investment banks. The rise and fall of Fed policy via targeting of aggregates, for example, was not a debate played out in the pages of the JPE and the QJE.

Second, even for more academic research, the journals ceased being a means of communication a long time ago – more than 20 years ago for sure. New research would be unveiled in seminars, circulated as NBER Working Papers, long before anything showed up in a journal. Whole literatures could flourish, mature, and grow decadent before the first article got properly published – this happened to me with target zones back in the late 1980s, where my original 1988 working paper had spawned a large derivative literature by the time it actually got published. The journals have long served as tombstones, certifications for tenure committees, rather than a forum in which ideas get argued.

So Krugman is suggesting the scrutiny Lewandowsky speaks of occurs before the peer-review process and ‘tombstone’ publication. He goes to argue the value of blogs.

Since there’s some kind of conservation principle here, the fact that it’s easier for people with less formal credentials to get heard means that people who have those credentials are less guaranteed of respectful treatment. So yes, we’ve seen some famous names run into firestorms of criticism — *justified* criticism – even as some “nobodies” become players. That’s a good thing! Famous economists have been saying foolish things forever; now they get called on it.

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13 Responses to The Lewandowsky hypothesis smacked again

  1. JamesK

    The next decade will see krugmanisms used against Krugman.

    Even more delightfully krugmanisms will be used against even the non-econ extremes of leftism championed by Krugman.

  2. Krugman is probably right about economics but in many scientific fields, peer-reviewed publication remains the gold standard. And publication IS only the first step; the ability to replicate the results is the ultimate test of credibility.

    As has been discussed here though, the peer-review process gets corrupted when all the ‘peers’ read from the same hymn sheet and actively oppose those who challenge the dominant paradigm.

  3. Woolfe

    BREAKING: An IPCC backchannel ‘cloud’ was apparently established to hide IPCC deliberations from FOIA.

    Latest from wattsupwiththat

  4. Winston Smith

    Sorry: hat tip to Woolfe…

  5. conrad


    I think this depends on the area a lot. Given that Lewandowsky isn’t doing economics, I’m not sure what Krugman says is really relevant here (and off topic, I think Lewandowsky is getting to a bit convenient for you as a strawman here — you’re going after some guy that works in a psychology department in UWA with a H=20, not a Nobel prize winner).

  6. Sinclair Davidson

    conrad – he put himself out as the expert and know-all on the issue. I’m just confronting his hypothesis with alternative views.

  7. JC


    So, you’re saying their are two standards: one for Nobel prize winners (turned into the world’s smallest monster) and some guy that works in the psychology dept at UWA. How convenient.

    I think Sinc could be in error to bring up Krugman for much different reasons. The Krugster basically closed off his comments section, as he began to receive a shellacking from commenters over his strange positions on economics. We also don’t know if Krugman is writing those pieces as he once mentioned (in a New Yorker piece) his wife substantially edits his NYTimes articles. So don’t really know who wrote them.

  8. In my field almost all the important literature appears in proceedings first and journals later (if at all). Conferences are the focus because the field moves much too quickly for an 18-36 month journal process.

  9. manalive

    Lewandowsky regurgitates some well masticated bits like smoking > lung cancer = “carbon [sic] emissions” > climate change and the Wegman report into Mann’s hockeystick (an “iconic” graph he reckons).
    He saves his heavy ammunition till last: at a time when Greenland is losing around 9,000 tonnes of ice every second — all of which contributes to sea level rises – it is time to hold accountable those who invert common standards of science, decency, and ethics in pursuit of their agenda to delay action on climate change.
    Whether or not the current Greenland ice sheet melt is partly or wholly attributable to human CO2 emissions, there is nothing unusual or unprecedented about it.

  10. conrad

    JC, no I just think that its not really worth chasing stawmen — the article would have been quite fine without it — in fact I learnt something useful, which is that economics works like linguistics and a few other fields, which helps clean up problems before they escape so to speak. I don’t think many hard sciences work like that because everyone is trying to find the “break-through”, and hence want to publish it first. I would think that many areas of economics (and I know it’s true of linguistics) don’t really have “breakthroughs”, so you can take time to do theoretical stuff and not worry about being first.

  11. Boris

    “In my field almost all the important literature appears in proceedings first and journals later (if at all). ”

    In my field too. Yet proceedings and such contain too much garbage and the signal to noise ratio is low. Only a certain fraction makes to journals, and signal to garbage ratio is much higher (though still much lower than it should be).

    And yes, the real scrutiny is after the publication. Due to nornal academic pressures (mainly from co-authors), I have published papers that can be judged as mediocre. But I do caution co-atuhors and students that peer review is a low burden and passing it does not guarantee that your paper is good or will be appreciated by the readers.

  12. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Boris, one could argue that there are some fields (well, sub-fields anyway) that are so degraded there is no important literature any more thus the whole question of the value of peer-review vs. pre-publication debate becomes a redundant concern. Wimmins Studies comes to mind as beyond redemption. These degraded fields however have taken to invading other academic literatures in a frenzy of multi-disciplinarity. Reminds me of IPCC ‘climate science’ a bit.

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