Update: Lewandowsky et al paper on conspiracist ideation “provisionally removed” due to complaints

frontiersLast week, we covered the complicated story of a paper by Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues that had been removed — or at least all but the abstract — from its publisher’s site. Our angle on the story was how Frontiers, which publishes Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences, where the study appeared, had handled the withdrawal. It happened without any notice, and no text appeared to let the reader know why the paper had vanished.

Today, Frontiers posted a note to readers on top of the paper’s abstract:

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 The article has not been retracted or withdrawn.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.

Fair enough, given the history of the study, although we wonder why this note didn’t appear when the paper was first “delinked” last week. We also wonder why Frontiers said the article was first published on March 18, given that it appeared online on February 5. Perhaps they meant the most current version of the paper, since that first version was also temporarily removed in response to complaints. But that’s a strange distinction to make.

We’ve asked Frontiers to clarify, and will update with anything we learn.

Update, 5:45 p.m. Eastern, 4/3/13: Frontiers tells us:

I think there’s a misunderstanding: the manuscript was accepted for publication by Frontiers on Feb 2, and the provisional (i.e. non proof-read) PDF was made available immediately, as we do in most cases. Because there was subsequently identified a need for authors, reviewers, editor and associates to review and Chief editors to agree on the modification of one specific line in the text, the provisional PDF was hidden on Feb 6 while this modification was agreed. The paper was then published in the agreed form on March 18, and as you know was subsequently unlinked while we deal with all the complaints and allegations.

Again, fair enough, but probably best to mark the paper as withdrawn whenever it was.

31 thoughts on “Update: Lewandowsky et al paper on conspiracist ideation “provisionally removed” due to complaints”

  1. Nothing sinister at all Neuroskeptic. The paper was removed on Feb 6 following a complaint by Jeff Condon who had been misrepresented in the original version of the paper, as explained in the earlier Retraction Watch article. The update from Frontiers is a bit economical with the truth on this point. It was removed a second time following further complaints.

      1. It is different. The original version didn’t even quote him. It just said, “Conspiracist ideation is arguably particularly prominent on climate blogs, such as when expressing the belief that temperature records show warming only because of systematic adjustments (e.g., Condon, 2009).” That description is incredibly inaccurate. It is directly contradicted by practically everything he has ever said. In fact, he had previously contacted the authors to inform them of how inaccurate it was.

        To be clear, the version you linked to is the same as the final web version posted by the journal. It is different than the final pdf version. I have no idea why two different versions were posted at the same time, on the same page.

      2. Since this paper bases its interpretations on what specific people (or their aliases) say on blogs, it’s important that they are properly quoted in context.

        I also had a look at Jeff Condon’s blog; the reference to this (ref #18; Condon J. 2009) in the updated “Recursive” paper is correct as you say. Condon’s assertion does seem like a decent example of “conspiricist ideation” since it’s obvious from inspection of the UK FOI Act 2000 that there are a number of relevant exemptions. It’s much more likely that a particular non-compliance with an FOI request is a result of an exemption than some sort of conspiracy involving government officials!

        But people do tend to say stuff on blogs that they may not have put much thought into…

        1. The fact an accusation is severe does not inherently make it improbable. You should assume a person making an accusation has a legitimate basis for making it until given reason to believe otherwise. You certainly shouldn’t assume the person making the accusation has failed to acquaint themselves with even the most basic aspects of the issue they’re discussing.

          This is especially true since the entire saga with FOI requests has been well-documented and claims are easily checked. Doing so would find plenty of evidence to support Jeff Condon’s accusations, including statements from the Information Commissioner’s Office which indicate there was strong evidence unlawful actions were taken to block FOI requests (a matter the ICO couldn’t pursue due to statutory time limits).

          It is incredibly uncharitable to assume someone making accusations has “not… put much thought into” them because you haven’t made the slightest effort to examine what they say.

        2. “people do tend to say stuff on blogs that they may not have put much thought into…”
          Indeed they do Chris – there were no relevant exemptions. If you look this issue up on the web you will find a Guardian article “University in hacked climate change emails row broke FOI rules”.

          Whether Condon’s statement was precisely correct is debatable. Also debatable is whether it is reasonable to pick out one remark from a blogger and quote it in a supposedly academic journal and label the author a conspiracy theorist.

          1. Climateskeptic, the Guardian article (and others similar) is incorrect as was made clear subsequently by the ICO. Clearly a statement about whether anyone has breached the act can only be made after a proper investigation. It can’t simply be stated as a presumption.

            This is one of the main findings of the UK House of Commons Select Committee report on the events (published in March 2010). e.g. they point out:

            Para 91: “We regret that the ICO made a statement to the press that went beyond that which could be substantiated and that it took over a month for the ICO properly to put the record straight.”

            Para 93: “There is prima facia evidence that CRU has breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would, however, be premature without a thorough investigation affording each party to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the act.”

            Reading the Muir Russell and Select Committee reports lends to the conclusion (to me anyhow) that Jones endeavoured to use exemptions within the FOI act to avoid sending data to individuals who he considered were misrepresenting the science and making vexatious demands.

          2. @Chris
            “It can’t simply be stated as a presumption.”

            Er, well it can apparently. You’ve just told us that the Information Commissioner’s Officer is included, with The Guardian and Jeff Condon, in the list of entities who did just that.

            What do you mean by “can’t” and “presumption” here?

            Do you mean that you can’t state “it” without some consequence afterwards?

          3. Isn’t it clear from the Select Committee report tlitb1? As the ICO clarified subsequently they were wrong to make assertions to newspapers that UEA breached FOI rules since they had no basis for concluding this without investigation. It’s possible, for example, that had they done so they might have found that FOI rules weren’t in fact breached.

            But you’re absolutely right, anyone can accuse anyone of anything on blogs (“NASA and the government conspired to fake the moon landings”; the virology and immunology scientific community are conspiring to pretend that HIV is the causal factor in AIDS” etc. etc.)! Are there consequences of this sort of stuff? Yes, sometimes…

          4. @Chris
            You said:

            “Since this paper bases its interpretations on what specific people (or their aliases) say on blogs, it’s important that they are properly quoted in context.”

            Good. I think we may agree on “context”. Let us ignore the fact that the ICO later decided that there was no prima facie case to prosecute, even though the statute of limitations expired.

            I think it is significant that we are talking about the single change to the paper (acknowledged so far). When it first disappeared at Frontiers the original quote used was part of an assertion of a more extreme and overt case of someone claiming widespread conspiracy – i.e. a claim of a conspiracy to change the temperature record – this was met with the complaint that it was untrue and this was effectively upheld by the journal and the quote changed to this new one about the ICO.

            The version we are talking about the ICO and legality now seems less controversial since we also as we see that the ICO and Guardian both attached themselves to the same “ideation”. So the “ideation” is less specific to a certain group who holds it.

            Maybe you could correct my layman interpretation if I am wrong but I thought the point of LOG13 was to highlight a tendency for a certain type of person to recursively follow a pattern of behaviour. Yet in this case their choice of modification weakens that claim since there rather seems clear evidence that a wider range of people – if not stated as strongly – had held similar sentiments to the Condon.

            For instance Bob Ward, I would think most would agree is very definition of the opposite of climate denier, is quoted on this subject at about the same time saying:

            “I think that anybody reading the emails that have been posted online will have concluded that some of those showed an intention to avoid complying with the FOI. I always thought that those emails were the most damning.”

            This seems very similar to what Jeff Condon said. Maybe they *all* could be rightfully described as conspiracy ideating by the specific definitions of the paper but the situation is less clear that the idea is purely motivated by climate skepticism but more by what appeared prima facie evidence to them at the time.

            I actually think this change makes a case for bias in authorship of LOG13. Since Lew at al could have removed the reference to Condon altogether. Their initial assumption was cursory and shallow, as Brandon Shollenberger said “incredibly inaccurate” yet they maintain the desire to save face and keep a Condon quote at the same place in the paper, and so this has led them to use this less unique “ideation”

            “Are there consequences of this sort of stuff? Yes, sometimes…”

            Yes this is where consequences lead. It seems for whatever reason, and I think it is cognitive bias and maybe un-acknowledged antagonism, certain people are more likely to be selected for inclusion when many other have been ignored.

            I think this is a good indication of the motivational bias of the author and helps one understand the cause of the problems of the work and may explain this second “withdrawal”.

          5. To put it a little more concisely:
            The issue is not whether or not the excellent report of the Parliamentary Select Committee is correct and the undisputed authority on issues like Freedom of Information and that the Guardian and Information Commissioner’s Office were wrong. The issue is whether someone who believes – along with the Guardian and at least initially the ICO – that the CRU had been avoiding its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act and had been doing so because they were not confident their conclusions from this data would stand up to scrutiny, is exhibiting paranoid ideation.
            One might equally say that to believe that President Nixon tried to block release of the White House tapes because he was concealing wrong-doing is showing paranoid ideation – since the basis of his objection, that people might feel unwilling to express themselves freely and frankly if they knew their conversations might be monitored and scrutinized by third parties, is surely beyond dispute.

          6. tlitb1 (and littlegreyrabbit), the issue is about conspiracy ideation I believe. The ICO and the Guardian might both (wrongly) have adopted the presumption that Dr Jones/UEA had breached the FOI. However it’s unlikely these parties adopted the stance of Mr. Condon, namely that this was a conspiracy involving collusion with government officials.

            Incidentally LGR, the presumption that the CRU “were not confident their conclusions from this data would stand up to scrutiny” is incorrect, not least because their conclusions had already been independently verified by several other groups. My reading of both the Muir Russell and Select Committee reports (not to mention the hacked emails!) lends to the conclusion that (rightly or wrongly) Dr. Jones wasn’t keen to send data to individuals he considered were misrepresenting the science and making vexatious demands.

  2. The journal’s response to you is untrue. In the last topic about this paper, I discussed a peculiar issue in which two different versions of the paper were simultaneously published. In it, I discussed how a change was made in responses to concerns by Foxgoose. The change was made in the .pdf version of the paper, but not the web version. This change was in addition to the change required by Jeff Condon.

    The journal is wrong to claim only one change was made. Two changes were made. It is troubling the journal would make a false claim on this issue. Not having any sort of public record of changes is bad enough, but giving false statements about the record?

    I assume this was just a mistake, but it shows the approach used by the journal is terrible.

    1. Brandon Shollenberger is correct. There are three versions of this paper floating about. The pre-publication version and two final versions.

      That this might happen is perhaps excusable. The fact that the editor is unaware that there is a problem even after having responded to your inquiries points to a larger issue at the journal.

  3. Screw ups happen. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is apparently the journal doesn’t even realize what it did. Their process is clearly faulty if they can’t keep track of what they do.

    For what it’s worth though, the journal hasn’t responded to me. The response was to Retraction Watch, and Retraction Watch didn’t point out the issue I raised. I don’t think the journal was directly told about the issue until I e-mailed them a day or two ago. I haven’t heard back from them yet, but I’m hoping they’ll acknowledge what happened when I do.

    1. It appears that they’ve acknowledged differences in versions. A new post is up at Frontiers In.

      The original article now feature this note,

      “Correction: Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideationFrontiers in Psychology Editorial Office”

      which links to http://www.frontiersin.org/Personality_Science_and_Individual_Differences/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00218/full

      The page provides a link to the “Provisional PDF” which is apparently a fourth version of the article. Because it is provisional can we assume that there will be a fifth version?

  4. Sorry, not a fourth version just a correction to one of the three earlier versions. The article is simply a regurgitation of the correction notice that appears in HTML at the paper’s correction page.

    1. I don’t think it’s appropriate to call it “a regurgitation” of anything as that word has a rather negative connotation. All they’ve done is provide the article (in this case, an erratum) in both HTML and .pdf form like they do all their published articles. It’s neither surprising nor remarkable.

      I know some people would think the choice of words there doesn’t matter, but I think the journal deserves (some) praise for publishing this, not anything resembling criticism.

      1. Thank you Mr. Shollenberger for your parsing of words. Isn’t the larger issue the publication of errata for a paper which you have apparently filed a complaint* with the editor?

        1. The choice of words used to describe people’s behavior is important. Calling for the fair use of language is not merely “parsing of words.” It’s calling for fairness. Using words with a clear negative connotation while discussing praiseworthy behavior is not fair. It is petty. You went out of your way to write a sentence whose meaning depends on the “parsing of words.”

          You shouldn’t be surprised someone chose to do what you encouraged them to do. You chose to use “regurgitate” rather than something like “repeat.” That choice strongly suggests an intentional indication of deeper meaning. And I looked at what that meaning was.

          Regardless, I don’t see why you would ask if something is “the larger issue.” I criticized your description of what the journal did because you belittled its actions. I said the journal deserves praise for what it did (in this particular instance). The entire purpose of my comment was to encourage positive feelings for the journal’s action.

          Why would you ask me if what I defended and praised was important? Obviously it was. That’s why I wrote a comment to defend and praise it.

          1. Brandon,

            The journal’s practices are odd.

            The correction, the errata did very little to correct the issues that exist in this paper. The original posting of the correction language in HTML which linked to a PDF with the same words was a regurgitation IMO.

            I don’t intend to stroke the ego of the editor in hopes he/she will decide to retract the paper. The paper’s fate does not lie in the hands of blog commenters at this point.

            Or I should hope that the journal has standards above, “Brandon Shollenberger wrote a complaint. But now he’s being really nice to us on the blogs. I think we should retract this paper.”


  5. My email to UWA:

    Please see the concerns and correspondence (attached) that I have raised with the journal about the ethical conduct of the researchers involved in this paper.

    I am known to the authors, and a critic of one of the authors earlier work LOG12, and was interacting with the authors of the Recursive Fury paper on their blogs, whilst unbeknownst to me they were researching me and I find have been named in their research (data)

    At least one of the researchers (Marriott) is publically hostile towards me, blogging about my articles (at the high profile science blog Watts Up With That) and labelling them/me, as a denier, disinformation and bullshit, of further serious concern, he also uses the tag Dunning-Kruger effect (psychologising opponents by blog posts?) as far as I’m aware Marriott has no relevant qualifications. He headlined his article with a graphic cut from WUWT (copyright?) which he has adulterated by added a red rubber stamp graphic ‘Verified Bullshit’.

    His co-author runs a high traffic website, which is in partnership with Former Vice President Al Gores’ – Climate Reality Project, this co-author endorsed, Marriot’s article and his claims about me on his blog.

    For example, see a recent article debunked by the blog Watching the Deniers, where somebody had cherry-picked skeptical quotes from a few scientists who responded to the Doran and Zimmerman study (EoS, January 20, 2009). This only reveals that some people confuse consensus with unanimity. – Skeptical Science (SkS)

    The somebody is of course myself, presumably Marriott stamping ‘Verified Bullshit’ on an adulterated graphic of my WUWT article, is the standard appropriate enough for Al Gore, and SkS readers, but perhaps not that of professional academics, of course this was on their private blogs. But clearly shows the researchers of this paper are hostile to their human research subject, so is quite relevant to my concerns.

    My article questioned how politicians and activists use / misuse a ‘sound bite of 97% of scientists say’ which is taken from research, this article questions The Skeptical Science position on this quotation from the Doran Paper (and Anderegg and other papers), it is a key reference for Al Gores Climate Reality Project:

    The Deniers: Climate Reality Project
    “But 97 per cent of climate scientists understand that climate change is a reality. The scientists are not confused. And we shouldn’t be either.” (which links to SkS)

    So we have a very clear motive and need to ‘claim’ they debunked my WUWT article. I say claim they debunked my article, as the rely on the debunking of my WUWT article, by linking to Marriotts blog – with the shall we say unprofessional

    This adulterated WUWT graphic has also been used on more than one occasion.

    Thus, as a named unwilling/unwitting (well known) participant in the research conducted by Professor Lewandowsky et al. I say well known – quoting Marriott’s blog here (with the tags and graphic):
    “This post is authored by well-known climate “sceptic” Barry Woods: – Watching the Deniers (Marriot)

    In these circumstances, please advice me, of any and or all information I am entitled to know, according to the national guidelines with respect to this research and the university’s guidelines that this research operated under. I am not aware of everything I am entitled to know, so please provide it all.

    Not least of which is, the ethics clearance this paper went through and under what funding grant and justification this research came under.

    In the circumstance described, I have asked the authors, publically, via their blogs and via the journal (I have no desire to communicate directly now) to remove my name and comment from the supplementary data to this research (as far as I can see the paper does not depend on it in anyway).

    I have received no acknowledgement or response to date from the authors (most recent url).

    My expectations are, in the first instance that the university first verify my concerns, (I will endeavour to assist in any way I can) and then I would hope the university react accordingly to the ethics issues raised without formal complaint (in the interests of the university, the human subjects studied, and this niche of the field of psychology)

    That is my hope,

    (have also made a formal complaint, ref ethics and the National Statement)


  6. The latest notice from the ‘Frontiers’ stable notes the paper is back, and they have published a correction, to make sure the HTML and PDF versions are the same. Story over

      1. well you can’t read the paper, nor download the data..
        so clearly not over for the journal, nor the authors.. 😉

        and the journal states quite clearly:

        “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 correction on the website, merely refers to the fact that there were 3 different versions of the same paper floating around (2 on frontiers) Currently none are accessible, and the original complaints are still pending resolution.

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