Hypocrisy at the University of Western Australia

An “academic” paper by Stephan Lewandowsky (and co-authors) has been retracted from publication. Mind you the open access online journal seems to be a bit slow in updating its own website. The official retraction notice is here.

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.

So its possible to have an article cleared of all academic, ethical and legal problems but still have a “legal context is insufficiently clear”? Why is anyone surprised after the ClimateGate investigations cleared scientists of wrong-doing when “hiding the decline”? Quite plainly Frontiers lawyers worked out that there would be a very different outcome from previous “investigations”.

Okay, so the official story is that the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, believes that the paper represents a litigation risk:

In its investigation, the journal found no academic or ethical problems with Recursive Fury. However, the fear of being sued by contrarians for libel remained. The University of Western Australia (UWA: Lewandowsky’s university when Recursive Fury was published – he later moved to the University of Bristol) also investigated the matter and found no academic, ethical, or legal problems with the paper. In fact, UWA is so confident in the validity of the paper that they’re hosting it on their own servers.

Indeed they are – with a HUGE legal notice.

Lewandowsky

I think the UWA is indicating that the journal can’t be sued from outside the US and that a US case would fail. But read the UWA legal notice again. The University of Western Australia “reaffirms its commitment to academic freedom”.

Really?

I don’t think so.

Here is the UWA vice chancellor committing to academic freedom:

Vice-Chancellor Alan Robson said he was amazed to learn from a newspaper advertisement today that the volatile British Lord would be the guest speaker at private function booked at one of the university’s venues.

Professor Robson said UWA, which claims to have some of the world’s most respected climate change scientists on its staff, had not invited Lord Monckton to speak at the university and did not condone his views.

Lord Monckton argues that climate change is not as big a threat as many Governments, scientists and institutions claim, and he opines that mitigation efforts will be very expensive but do little to slow global warming.

“I reject the position put by Lord Monckton and find his anti-science stance and related comments offensive,” Professor Robson said.

“His views denigrate the values of universities such as ours where the quality of evidence-based and peer-reviewed science is paramount.

“However, in any one year, hundreds of non-university activities are booked by groups or individuals who are looking to hire a venue for their events. This is a service the university provides to the community and in no way does it mean that any of these events are endorsed by the university.

As I recall Monckton was eventually denied the use of a UWA venue and had to relocate. UWA is not promoting academic freedom so much as engaging in still more partisanship.

(HT: Grant B)

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36 Responses to Hypocrisy at the University of Western Australia

  1. Demosthenes

    Lewandowsky on free speech, when he tried to get Notre Dame to prevent Monckton talking there:

    Another signatory, Australian Professorial Fellow at UWA’s School of Psychology, Stephan Lewandowsky, said he strongly endorsed Lord Monckton’s right to free speech “for example in a pub or on a soapbox or in a circus arena”.

  2. Andrew

    LOL UWA linking to SkS! I’d say their reputation is now officially in the toilet, except that this actually occurred when they found that Murali didn’t chuck.

    (In other UWA hilarity, they “cleared” Shabbhir Ahmed I think it was – the biomechanical “experts” said he would never chuck again after a minor technical adjustment. IIRC, he was reported for his first OVER back in International cricket by Taufel et al.)

  3. Tel

    I think Stephan Lewandowsky says more about himself in his papers than he does about anyone else. I also think it’s wrong to use SLAPP style tactics in any situation including this one. The paper should stay public, the author’s names should remain associated with it for all time.

  4. C.L.

    Goebbels would be proud of the UWA.

  5. Tel

    As I recall Monckton was eventually denied the use of a UWA venue and had to relocate. UWA is not promoting academic freedom so much as engaging in still more partisanship.

    Wedding photographers, cake decorators, and bed & breakfast owners get themselves sued when they stand up for their freedom of non-association.

  6. johanna

    There is a lot of complicated back history to this story, which has been extensively covered at climate blogs like Bishop Hill, Climate Audit and Lucia’s Blackboard.

    But one thing that comes out of it is that UWA has seemingly abandoned any notion of professional standards and its own code of ethics for human research. Lewandowsky, for reasons that are obscure to anyone who has looked at his slipshod and slightly demented work, seems to have been a favourite son who could be forgiven just about anything.

    The “Recursive Fury” paper cited in the head post was derived from the reactions to an earlier paper, which claimed that people who are sceptical about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change (CAGW) are nutters who also disbelieve in things like the moon landings and that HIV causes AIDS.

    The methodology of the first paper was so poor that a first year undergraduate who submitted it should have been failed. When it was eviscerated on the blogs (notably by Steve McIntyre), he used the reactions to it for the “Recursive Fury” paper, which was no better, but this time named names. A couple of people (not me) demanded retractions of misrepresentations of their views, and after more than a year it has been withdrawn. I was one of several who were misrepresented, something of which I am quite proud, as it puts me in very distinguished company. :)

    Anyway, Lew was supposed to comply with the ethical standards of UWA, including submitting his proposal to the Ethics Committee, and not using human subjects in a way that would identify them without their consent, or humiliate them. He did get a proposal approved by UWA, but then changed the parameters of the study without telling them, something which they later forgave, as they have forgiven and defended everything he did in this shoddy and sleazy episode.

    UWA used to have a good reputation, but watching the way they cossetted the incompetent and vindictive Lewandowsky, not to mention the hounding of Lord Monckton, has made it a standing joke everywhere around the world that people follow sceptical climate blogs.

  7. Myrddin Seren

    Kate at Smalldeadanimals.com now regularly opens threads on similar topics with

    What’s the opposite of diversity ? University !

  8. Further details about the history of this article and continued attempts to suppress inconvenient science

    Is that like the inconvenient science put forward by Mark Steyn, James Delingpole, Lord Monckton, etc etc? Or the inconvenient lack of science like that put forward by Al Gore?

  9. Peter H

    Honestly the university board needs to be challenged, for being so bloody stupid, i hope someone does take them to court. How bloody dare they!

  10. JC

    Do I understand it right that Lew is no longer at UAW. Anyone know what happened?

  11. Turtle of WA

    I’m pretty sure I saw a certain Philosopher from UWA, who I know to be an expert on Freud, on one of the Youtube clips with Lewandowski. This confirmed what I know about unfalsifiable theories.

  12. johanna

    JC, he was headhunted, believe it or not, by Bristol University in the UK. They gave him a pay rise and various other perks to entice him over.

    Bristol must be even worse than UWA when it comes to ethics and academic standards.

  13. JC, the deluded Lewandowsky has moved to the University of Bristol; he is now Chair in Cognitive Psychology: if you’re a fruit-loop at Bristol, in other words, you must sit on him.

  14. JC

    Lol

    They actually headhunted him, like he was good value?

    Hahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahaha

    UAW seems to have won out on the deal I reckon.

  15. By the way, the first comment on the original, loony conspiracy paper, “Conspiracist Ideation” was by Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, best known for predicting every year or so that a marine reef the size of France is doomed to become a bleached graveyard within hours, and for having weird conspiracy theories that, for instance, no-one outside of the ABC ever believes his bizarre and demonstrably loopy predictions because sceptics are paid by Big Oil:

    Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (05 Feb 2013 at 11:15am) Great article! Provides a fascinating perspective on conspiracist ideation – no doubt this will infuriate the ‘irrational ones’ as in the original context! Intriguing to watch!

  16. DrBeauGan

    It’s rather sad to see science crumbling and shameful that UWA is leading the charge. It has a newish VC so might improve. Then again…

  17. Rabz

    Lewandowsky is a preposterous, anti-scientific, pseudo-intellectual cockhead.

  18. Tell us what yer really think, Rabzy …

  19. johanna

    The Lewandowsky story is a parable of what is happening to our universities.

    The guy is demonstrably incompetent, not to mention dishonest and deranged, but because he pushes the right line, he keeps getting rewarded with more money and titles.

    He is just the tip of the iceberg – not that children will know what icebergs are, according to him and his pals.

  20. DJA

    He has moved to Bristol Uni, thus increasing the IQ of both universities.

  21. DJA, does this mean the planet will tip on its axis due to an imbalance of braininess at the top? I hope not – I was just getting used to the water swirling one way when letting the bath out.

  22. manalive

    Science journalist and microbiologist PhD Alex Berezow writing in the LA Times says psychology is not a science because it lacks quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility, predictability and testability.
    That equally applies to IPCC ‘science’ IMO.
    He further states that to claim psychology is science is an attempt to redefine science, that “science redefined is no longer the empirical analysis of the natural world” , that “this is dangerous because, under such a loose definition, anything can qualify as science. And when anything qualifies as science, science can no longer claim to have a unique grasp on secular truth”.
    My psychological assessment of the UWA’s reluctance to dump the screwy professor’s stuff is an example of what I think economists call the sunk cost fallacy, for example having invested so much fawning and grovelling, Fawlty’s denial reaction on opening Lord Melburwy’s case of ‘vawuables’.

  23. Demosthenes

    psychology is not a science

    The scientific method dictates what is science and what is not. I’d be hesitant to dismiss an entire field, since academic inquiry varies so much.

    That equally applies to IPCC ‘science’ IMO.

    Their reports are just glorified literature reviews.

  24. Barry Woods

    I complained to both Frontiers and UWA and the issue is research ethics.
    my comment made at Lewandowsky’s blog (the sks moderators seem to have departed now,)
    http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/rf1.html#3166

    Barry Woods at 23:01 PM on 21 March, 2014
    I wrote to Frontiers about my concerns about ethical conduct and conflicts of interest and vested interest of the one or more of the authors. In particular, I requested my name to be removed from the paper’s data set, 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.

    I made the point,to UWA and Frontiers, as my name was merely in the data set, but not referenced in the main paper, the removal of my name should have no impact on the paper. and given the circumstances I thought this was a reasonable request.

    I also said because of this it was also in Frontiers best interests to remove this paper for consideration, in light of these issues

    I emailed Frontiers, links to Marriott’s personal attacks about myself and Anthony Watts, labelling us deniers, disinformation, denial Industry, writing ‘Verified Bullshit’ and worst labelling us with a psychological defect Dunning-Kruger, and he had adulterated an WUWT graphic (my article) with a red rubber stamped ‘Verified Bullshit’
    https://watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com/?s=woods

    This article I found was was endorsed by Skeptical Science, and it transpires that Mariott was also a Skeptical Science insider (writing rebutalls)- John Cook the founder of Skeptical Science, also being an author on this paper.

    I did write to UWA ethics department, asking for my name to be removed from the paper, in light of Marriot’s conduct, as initially a reasonable request not a complaint. It was only when a complaint seemed to be the only way forward, that I made it a complaint

    (I also repeated it had no impact on the paper, and this should be a simple request for UWA/ and the lead author to fulfill, given the circumstances) but UWA found no problems with Marriott’s conduct, or the other issues I raised about the paper, which says a lot about UWA, I think

    From the FOI request for ethics approval for this paper, the ethics secretary directed professor Lewandowsky to a UWA webpage.

    (extract from)
    http://nigguraths.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/3758/

    The page contains a ‘risk assessment checklist’ to guide researchers to whether a planned study would need ethics approval. It has these questions:

    1 Active concealment of information from participants and/or planned deception of participants

    2 Will participants be quoted or be identifiable, either directly or indirectly, in reporting of the research?

    3 Will data that can identify an individual (or be used to re-identify an individual) be obtained from databanks, databases, tissue banks or other similar data sources?

    4 Might the research procedures cause participants psychological or emotional distress?
    5 Does the research involve covert observation?

    The answer is a ‘Yes’ to many of these questions. ’Participants’ declared to be conspiratorial by Lewandowsky are directly identified by name in the paper. The element of covert observation is undeniable.

    ————-
    so I do think ethics approval went a bit wrong with this paper.

  25. Barry Woods

    the graphic and link (from Watching the Deniers blog – Marriott – co-author) shown in my first comment, were a few weeks before the ‘research’ period of the Recursive Fury paper..

    here is another graphic, in the middle of the ‘research’ period by Marriott. Where Marriott is attacking Anthony Watts, who was later named as a ‘source of ideation in the paper and the WUWT graphic shown, is adulterated by Marriott to say “Verified Bullshit” (the article in question is my authorship)

    https://watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/watts-explains-why-lewandowsky-paper-on-conspiracy-theories-is-wrong-its-a-conspiracy-between-john-cook-and-the-prof/

    Marriot and Cook were brought in because they were supposedly independent of LOG12, yet Mariott was cheerleading Lewandowsky, and attacking LOG12 critics.

    I don’t care what was said by Marriott, the issue is that ethically, how can a researcher be seen to be publically attacking his research subjects, before after, or especially during the research period of the paper. (I am even interacting with him in the comments!)

  26. john constantine

    cronyism,it isn’t just looking after your little mates when you control taxpayer dollars,it is your little mates looking after you when they have taxpayer dollars.

    cronyism works,so they do it. say ‘shibboleth’ ,that you believe in furthering socialism under the pretence of global warming,and you are on the crony fast track.if you choke on the word,your career on the taxpayer gravy train has its throat cut.

  27. johanna

    Demosthenes, they are very selective literature reviews as well. An academic supervisor who knew the topic would give them an F.

  28. Demosthenes

    You know the topic well, johanna?

  29. johanna

    At the overview level, yes. Been following it closely since around 2000.

    Are you about to ask me whether I am a “qualified climate scientist”, and question whether I am entitled to have an opinion?

  30. Demosthenes

    Are you about to ask me whether I am a “qualified climate scientist”, and question whether I am entitled to have an opinion?

    No. I was curious if you were someone along the lines of Bruce of Newcastle, who clearly works in the field and knows what he is talking about. I realise now that my wording appears terse, I need to work on conveying tone in this toneless medium.

  31. manalive

    Are you about to ask me whether I am a “qualified climate scientist”, and question whether I am entitled to have an opinion?

    Good challenge johanna, in fact every Australian taxpayer and energy consumer is entitled to have and express an opinion on Lewandowsky’s claptrap and the dangerous global warming (aka climate change™) hypothesis in general.

  32. johanna

    No probs, Demosthenes. Bruce of Newcastle is one of my heroes, though. :)

  33. Gerry

    Now I’m not a denier anymore apparently ….I’m a contrarian …….Apparently I take the opposite position for the sake of it ….ha! …..so now I don’t even bother about what the research says ….

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