Science ‘abused’ by Lewandowsky paper, says Frontiers

Higher ethical standards than UWA…

Higher ethical standards than UWA…

The journal Frontiers, which by now no doubt wishes it had never heard of Lewandowsky, attempts once again to set the record straight, but ends up stirring the pot even more:

For Frontiers, publishing the identities of human subjects without consent cannot be justified in a scientific paper. Some have argued that the subjects and their statements were in the public domain and hence it was acceptable to identify them in a scientific paper, but accepting this will set a dangerous precedent. With so much information of each of us in the public domain, think of a situation where scientists use, for example, machine learning to cluster your public statements and attribute to you personality characteristics, and then name you on the cluster and publish it as a scientific fact in a reputable journal. While the subjects and their statements were public, they did not give their consent to a public psychological diagnosis in a scientific study. Science cannot be abused to specifically label and point out individuals in the public domain.

Really? Perhaps someone should tell the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) at UWA, since, as Steve McIntyre has noted, the ‘application’ was nothing more than a casual email from Lewandowsky to Kate Kirk in the ethics office, which read:

Dear Kate:
this is just to inform you of the fact that I will be writing a follow-up paper to the one that just caused this enormous stir. This follow-up paper will analyze the response to my first paper in the blogosphere, by keeping track of events and conspiracy theories that were launched in response to the publication of my paper.
None of this follow-up research will involve experimentation, surveys, questionnaires, or a direct approach of participants of any sort. Instead, we will be analyzing “Google trends” and other indicators of content that are already in the public domain (e.g. blog posts, newspapers, comments on blogs, that type of thing).
In other words, this research will basically just summarize and provide a timeline of the public’s response.
It is my understanding that this type of work does not require ethics approval as there is no human participation as such—whatever people do and say, they do this in public anyhow, irrespective of whether we then summarize that activity. I would appreciate it if you could confirm this, or point out why this would not be the case.
Regards Steve

Translation: move along, nothing to see here. Note that Lewandowsky claims it was ‘his understanding’ that it didn’t require ethics approval, and the HREC were almost completely taken in by this sleight of hand, their only change being to regard the email as an ‘amendment’ to the earlier ‘moon landing’ approval. The HREC wrote back:

I confirm receipt of your correspondence requesting an amendment to the protocol for the above project.

Approval has been granted for the amendment as outlined in your correspondence and attachments (if any) subject to any conditions listed below.

Any conditions of ethics approval that have been imposed are listed hereunder:

1. Follow-up research – writing of Follow-up paper

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Kate Kirk on (08) [redacted]

Please ensure that you quote the file reference RA/4/1/4007 and the associated project title in all future correspondence.

Yours sincerely

Peter Johnstone

At no point did anyone within the UWA ethics department raise the concerns outlined by the editor of Frontiers, namely that one cannot provide a psychological diagnosis to identifiable individuals in a journal paper without consent, whether or not that is based on publicly available statements.

When will UWA stop pretending that these papers were subject to proper ethical review?

(h/t Bob K)


  1. Lew Skannen says:

    Keep the pressure on UWA. They are hoping we will go away and so we should hang around.

  2. I’m staying, these liars think that they can say anything and no one will notice the BS. N

  3. Streetcred says:

    The VC should just do the right thing and resign ! Enough of your lies and deception, vulgar hypocrite.

  4. thingadonta says:

    The key here is this: “they did not give their consent to a public psychological diagnosis in a scientific study”.

    Consent is the KEY issue, I don’t even know if you can conduct anonymous analyses without consent, let alone non anonymous ones, but there are rules there as well. (Like information Facebook collects on people etc).

    Its also obvious that UWA were sloppy and didn’t know what was going on. For a field on human subjects this is not good.

  5. There may be legal ramifications of such a move…..

  6. manicbeancounter says:

    It is not “Frontiers” stirring the pot, but trying to save it’s reputation as an open access journal. Lewandowsky was given the opportunity to accept withdrawal without too much damage to his reputation, whilst “Frontiers” could quietly try to improve the checks to make such a flawed paper was not published again. But Lewandowsky and his mates keep on refusing to accept a compromise, so “Frontiers” has to state ever more forcefully why they withdrew the paper.
    Further, one of those most maligned by the “Fury” paper was Barry Woods. He contacted me to look at the follow-up to the “Hoax” paper – this time a study of the US population. I thought I would find some confirmation of the findings that “conspiracist ideation, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested”. That is people who believe in conspiracy theories will tend to reject anything that those “in authority” say. My analysis of the data reveals something quite different. Strong opinions with regard to conspiracy theories, whether for or against, suggest strong support for strongly-supported scientific hypotheses, and strong, but divided, opinions on climate science.

  7. James ‘Gaia’ Lovelock recanted many of his crazy ideas, we all know what he said, inc that humans would only be able to live and breed in the antarctic I personally think that he recanted as he did not want the future to regard him as being an idiot, we all make mistakes and he made a few, as he got older then he realized that much of what he said was wrong and he would not want to die without correcting his own record, this fool seems happy to have this crap with his own name on it, imagine that, he is sticking to words that are garbage so what will be written on his headstone? N

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