Why publishers should explain why papers disappear: The complicated Lewandowsky study saga
NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax
An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science
Assorted bloggers denounce the paper’s “Anthropogenic warmist nonsense,” suggest that the paper is “not scientific or competent,” and describe it as “an ad hom[inem] argument taken to its absurd extreme,” an “inane, irrelevant and completely biased rant study.”
Disgruntled climate skeptics have gone beyond digs at the science to suggest “hidden motivations” for the paper — perhaps a systematic attempt by left-wing academics to discredit those who reject climate science.
Lewandowsky and one of the authors of the Psychological Science paper, along with two other colleagues saw the response as an opportunity, so last year they wrote another paper with a similarly provocative title:
Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation
That study was published in Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences. But yesterday, that paper — or at least everything but the abstract — disappeared. It turns out this is the second time that’s happened. The paper was first removed on February 6, just days after it was accepted and published, because of complaints from a blogger named Jeff Condon, and since reposted — at least until yesterday.
We’re not going to dissect the papers here; that has been done elsewhere. Instead, we’re going to focus very narrowly, as we think is appropriate for Retraction Watch, on how Frontiers, which publishes Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences‘s parent journal, Frontiers in Psychology, has handled the apparent withdrawals.
We asked journal editor Brian Little for some details. Little — whom, we should note, went out of his way to respond to us quickly, despite the impending Easter holiday and a self-imposed “sequester” so that he can finish writing a book — told us:
The article was removed on February 6th because of a complaint about a factual error. We did due diligence, contacted the authors, had it corrected and it was put up again.
Little said he was told yesterday by the Frontiers editorial office that the study had been taken down again, but didn’t know why. There’s a conference call scheduled for just after the Easter break, he said
to find out why it was taken down and to seek a fair and timely resolution.
It doesn’t seem that Frontiers has a policy for taking down articles. When Paul Matthews, of the University of Nottingham, asked the editorial office what had happened the first time the paper was removed, he was told:
Thank you for your message. Please allow me to clarify that the PDF version of the manuscript has been temporarily removed for the purpose of further typesetting. The manuscript is currently in production stage and the full manuscript will be published in the coming weeks. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns.
If we may, we have some suggestions for the conference call Little mentioned:
- First, read this post we wrote about Elsevier’s withdrawal policy. That policy is better than many, but is lacking when it comes to “articles in press,” which it gives a mulligan. And at least Elsevier notes that studies have been withdrawn, if not why.
- Second, ask yourselves whether letting an article disappear without notice or explanation is really the most transparent way to go — and whether it only makes readers not inclined to trust you even less likely to do so.
The responses so far on climate skeptic blogs make the answer to the second question blindingly obvious. We look forward to hearing how Frontiers resolves this issue.
Please see an update to this post.