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)

Email to UWA Ethics Department



I have written the following email to the Associate Director for Research Ethics at the University of Western Australia:

I refer to our previous correspondence on the issue of Stephan Lewandowsky.

You will no doubt be aware that the journal Frontiers has issued a statement regarding the retraction of the paper, which states (my emphasis):

As a result of its investigation, which was carried out in respect of academic, ethical and legal factors, Frontiers came to the conclusion that it could not continue to carry the paper, which does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects. Specifically, the article categorizes the behaviour of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics.

I suggest that this reveals a significant failing on the part of UWA to properly consider the human research ethical implications of Recursive Fury (and, by implication, the predecessor paper, NASA faked the moon landings), and as a result the paper(s) have breached the requirements of the National Health and Medical Research Council policies on human research.

Do you stand by your previous assertion that you believe the research carried out by Stephan Lewandowsky was fully in compliance with the relevant human research ethics policies of UWA and/or the NHMRC? I intend to publish your response on my blog, Australian Climate Madness.

Stay tuned!

UWA closes ranks behind Lew – refuses access to data

Warmists hiding data? Who would have thought it possible?

UWA Vice Chancellor

UWA Vice Chancellor

Steve McIntyre writes:

I particularly take exception to [UWA Vice Chancellor Paul] Johnson’s claim that this blogpost demonstrates that I have become “unbalanced”. On the contrary, it seems to me that the blogpost shows my usual carefulness in avoiding needless editorializing. Even my severest critics have long recognized that Climate Audit posts avoid libelous claims and, when re-read, seldom offer targets. Oscar Wilde once observed that a true gentleman never hurts someone’s feelings unintentionally. If I have unintentionally hurt anyone’s feelings within the University of Western Australia administration, I apologize.

In addition, as is my policy, if there are any inaccuracies in the criticized blogpost, I will undertake to promptly correct them when brought to my notice.

In any event, even if my blogpost did contain “inflammatory language” about university administrators (which I deny), that is not grounds for refusing data.

Johnson seems to be unaware of how data obstruction played out in climate. Phil Jones famously said “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.” This attitude has never been acceptable to the wider public that pays the salaries of Jones and other climate scientists. Much of the public distaste for Phil Jones, Michael Mann and the Climategate correspondents arose from their attempts to obstruct data access.

Post Climategate, it has become somewhat harder for climate scientists to obstruct data access, even to critics, though problems remain at many journals. One notable exception is Nature which has moved decisively to eliminate the charade under which obstructing authors used third parties an excuse for not providing data. Nature now requires that authors must obtain permission from third party authors to release any previously unarchived data, thus cutting off the daisy chain previously beloved by obstructing authors.

Now Vice Chancellor Johnson of the University of Western Australia has joined the ranks of data obstructionists. I believe that this was an unwise decision on Johnson’s part, one that I hope that he promptly reconsiders.

Yeah, that’ll happen.

Lewandowsky: UWA general counsel a Greenpeace supporter



Many complaints were filed at the University of Western Australia about the appalling research techniques employed in the Moon Landing Denier paper and the subsequent Recursive Idiocy paper, and yet the UWA has staunchly defended Lewandowsky, and has repeatedly refused to take any action against him.

In a recent post on Lewandowsky’s Shaping Tomorrow’s World blog, UWA general counsel, Kim Heitman, jokes about the ‘confected outrage’ of those making complaints about the Recursive Idiocy paper:

Given its popularity, and given that approximately 29,300 viewers did not complain about our work, it would be a shame to deprive the public of access to this article. Because the work was conducted in Australia, I consulted with the University of Western Australia’s chief lawyer, Kim Heitman, who replied as follows:

“I’m entirely comfortable with you publishing the paper on the UWA web site. You and the University can easily be sued for any sorts of hurt feelings or confected outrage, and I’d be quite comfortable processing such a phony legal action as an insurance matter.”

— Kimberley Heitman, B.Juris, LLB, MACS, CT, General Counsel, University of Western Australia

A little googling reveals (Webcite) where Heitman’s sympathies lie:

I support human rights and environmental activists and I am a supporting member of Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

I like to read news articles online, and subscribe to a number of news services including The New York Times [left – Ed],  The Guardian [very left – Ed], The Nation [oh, very left again – Ed], Al-Jazeera [oops, and again – Ed], Matilda [and yet again! – Ed] and The Onion.

No further comment required…

Hietman’s blog homepage is here.

Lewandowsky forgets who funds his university: the Aussie taxpayer

Cook 'n' Lew

Cook ‘n’ Lew

UPDATE: Another article in Psychological Science claims that critics of Lewandowsky’s work were:

“invited to submit a commentary for publication in Psychological Science, but never acted on that invitation.”

I for one have never been invited to make such a comment, and I’m still waiting… (h/t Geoff in the comments)

Astonishingly, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky appears to have completely forgotten that, being on the staff at the University of Western Australia (UWA), he was paid out of the public purse, contributed to by my (and all other Australians’) taxpayer dollars, and as a consequence must accept that his work is subject the Freedom of Information (FoI) regime in force in Australia.

If he wishes to avoid such scrutiny, he should find a job in the private sector, which is not subject to the same rules, but where he would have to compete in the market for funding for his peculiar brand of research. Yeah, right, good luck with that.

Clearly peeved at his last few papers being ripped to shreds by the blogosphere, Prof Stephan Lewandowsky jumps the shark (with the willing assistance of Michael Mann) in his latest screed, lashing out at sceptics in all directions like a cornered dog. You know you’re pushing the right buttons when they resort to these kinds of hysterical outbursts of paranoia.

Entitled The Subterranean War on Science, Lew and Mann whine and whinge about all those nasty bloggers and sceptics (like me) who act up because they are sick and tired of being labelled as mentally deranged. Here’s a hint – stop demonising your ideological opponents, and maybe you wouldn’t get so many complaints and FoI requests. But let’s face it – that isn’t going to happen in a hurry, so Lew digs himself in deeper, labelling FoI requests as “vexatious” and constituting “harassment”.

The paper states, in relation to such FoI requests (by ACM):

During the last 9 months, the first author has been subject to numerous requests for correspondence and other documents, including trivial pedantry such as the precise time and date stamps of blog posts. In a paradoxical twist, accusations of impropriety were launched against the first author when an FOI-release confirmed that inconvenient research (Lewandowsky, Oberauer, & Gignac, 2013) was conducted with ethics approval. The allegations — by bloggers unaccountable to any form of review or ethical scrutiny — cited the fact that ethics approval was granted expeditiously (for details, see Lewandowsky, Cook, et al., 2013). 

Taking those two claims in turn:

Trivial pedantry

The “trivial pedantry” which Lewandowsky casually brushes off was actually a perfectly valid attempt to work out whether Lewandowsky backdated a blog post on Shaping Tomorrow’s World in order to falsely claim priority on outing the identity of bloggers contacted as part of the research for the original “moon landing denier” paper. Steve McIntyre deals with this issue in great detail here. Personally, I wouldn’t call this either trivial or pedantic, when the claim to priority was not just published on a blog, but was then repeated in a second “academic” paper by Lewandowsky, the sole purpose of which was to prop up the conclusions of the first.

Ethics approval

As regards the ethical approval for the moon landing denier paper, I provide the documents released under the FoI which relate to this claim here (PDF, 4MB). These documents also contain the emails from Charles Hanich to various blogs.

Beginning on page 37 of the file is the original ethics approval submitted by Lewandowsky on 12 December 2009. That approval was for a project entitled “Understanding Statistical Trends”, the purpose of which was stated thus:

“The project seeks to explore people’s understanding of statistical trends in time-series data. If we are monitoring a stock price, what do we think will happen to it in the future?

Participants will be shown simple graphs of time series (samples enclosed) and will make predictions about the future trends.”

Approval for this project was given on 21 December 2009 (p 35).

However, on 12 August 2010, Lewandowsky emails Kate Kirk in the UWA ethics department in the following terms (p29):

Dear Kate,

I am writing to seek approval for an amendment to the procedure for RA/4/1/4007. In a nutshell, I want to administer the survey not in person but via the internet using professional survey software (e.g., or equivalent.) [a]

As before, completion of the survey will be taken to constitute consent, and as before a variant of the approved information sheet will be shown before the survey commences.

The survey will be modified slightly as follows,

(1) The graphical extrapolation task is removed [b]

(2) In addition to the already-approved items, some further questions will be presented that are enclosed in this email. [c]

»Note that the scale “H&G&Kahan” already has UWA approval under a different project (RA/4/1/4054).

»The remaining two scales, “BCTI” and “Happ&Sat” have both been used extensively in previous research elsewhere.

»To satisfy constraints of the Web software, some items may need to be reworded or altered; however, the enclosures accurately describe the thrust of the questionnaires.

(3) In all other respects, the approved procedure remains unchanged [d] except that it is administered via internet, with consent again being expressed by completion of the electronic questionnaire.

(4) Participants will be recruited by posting links at relevant websites (e.g., or science-oriented “biogs”).

[a] – It is highly disingenuous to suggest that merely using survey software was the amendment “in a nutshell”, as can be seen from the following.

[b] – The graphical extrapolation task comprised the core of the original project, a point which is clear from its name: Understanding statistical trends.

[c] – “Some further questions”, dropped in casually as almost an afterthought, essentially redefines the project to introduce the conspiracy ideation element which eventually caused the reaction it did when the moon landing denier paper was published.

[d] – Translation: Move along, nothing to see here.

Despite all these red flags, Kate Kirk approved these amendments within 24 hours, to the amazement of Lewandowsky himself, who clearly couldn’t believe his luck, writing back (p27):

“Wow, thanks for the quick approval.”

If that wasn’t enough, Lewandowsky slips in yet another sneaky request:

Would it be possible to mention only my assistant’s name, Charles Hanich, on the online survey (with full contact d etails, plus the usual HREC address of course}? The reason for this is that I have been writing on the climate issue in public (e.g.,}, and my name alone routinely elicits frothing at the mouth by various people (e.g.,, not to mention the hate mail I receive. Because I am interested in soliciting opinions also from those folks, I would like to withhold my name from the survey as I fear it might contaminate responding.

Lew is clearly aware that anyone seeing his name would realise that he would be attempting to stitch up the “deniers” so excludes his name from the survey. Once again, this was jokingly waved through by Kate Kirk in about five minutes:

Hi Steve, Yes, fine for you to leave your name off as long as the standard complaints paragraph and contact details are there. I look forward to receiving the hate mail. I’ll let you know if I get any. Kate

So the ethics department at the UWA saw no problems with any of the above. None. Despite the fact that the eventual project was entirely different from that for which ethics approval was originally sought, there was no requirement for a resubmission of the application, with significant amendments simply waved through. The irony is that none of this would have come to light had Lewandowsky not used the research to demean his ideological opponents and insinuate that they were suffering from some kind of psychological condition. Unfortunately, he did, and provoked the ire of a very large number of people. All of it on taxpayers’ money.

Given the above, Lewandowsky has no cause for complaint whatsoever at the FoI requests, which were anything but vexatious, all of which makes his latest paper all the more tragic and desperate.

I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions from the documents themselves – LINK HERE.

Lewandowsky and UWA – Freedom of Information Documents

More Lew paper

More Lew paper

I am providing a download link to all the UWA FOI documents relating to Stephan Lewandowsky and the “Moon Landing denier” paper. If you haven’t followed this closely, you can check out the whole story here.

The FOIs were in two stages, the first focussed on the emails sent to “sceptic” blogs, and the second was more general in scope. The ZIP file contains two folders with the various documents from each.

Download HERE (.zip file, 95.7 MB).

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