A paper linking conspiracy ideas to climate change denialism has been retracted

We’ve posted several stories on the work of S. Lewandowsky. He makes climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists rather angry; angry enough to call him names and file complaints about the papers.

A rundown of the rather complicated history of his disputed papers about climate change deniers can be found here.

Journal pulls paper due to “legal context” created by climate contrarians | Ars Technica.

Two years ago, a group of researchers published a paper with a provocative title: “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax.” In the paper, they noted that a subset of the community that has a hard time accepting the evidence for human-driven climate change tends to more generally believe conspiracy theories.

Ironically, the community responded with… conspiracy theories. Which some of the original authors then analyzed in a paper that was accepted for publication in the journal Frontiers of Psychology. But shortly after its appearance, the article was pulled from the journal website and has existed in an unusual academic limbo since. Today, Frontiers has confirmed that the paper will be pulled permanently—not due to any flaws in it or misconduct by its authors, but because its “legal context is unclear.” All indications are that lack of clarity involves some of its subjects threatening defamation suits.

I read about the retraction from Retraction Watch.

Controversial paper linking conspiracy ideation to climate change skepticism formally retracted | Retraction Watch.

A year after being clumsily removed from the web following complaints, a controversial paper about “the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science” is being retracted.

The paper, “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation,” was authored by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer, and Michael Marriott, and published in Frontiers in Psychology: Personality Science and Individual Differences.

According to Retraction Watch blog, the journal has a small number of complaints regarding the paper and determined “the legal context is insufficiently clear”. They informed the authors and pulled the paper. Sadly, this is the state of the world. Litigiousness. The journal did not wish to take that legal risk. The DeSmogBlog has additional information on this (PDF). In one piece, a complainant rails about Lewandowski’s research at UWA calling him a “third rate academic”.

Frontiers had removed the paper when the dispute erupted. The lead author, Lewandowsky, blogs about the situation here. Recursive Fury goes recurrent. He notes that no scholarly critique of either paper has been submitted for peer review to any journal to date. The complainants chose to take this less savory route.


  8 comments for “A paper linking conspiracy ideas to climate change denialism has been retracted

  1. March 22, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    I will never understand why there is so much argument about climate change between the two viewpoints. The history of Earth shows us that there have always been wide fluctuations in climate and it seems likely there always will be. It seems sensible to suggest that recent changes have been exacerbated by the rise in our population and the advent of industry, we cannot calculate by what degree but that is surely irrelevant. Our numbers (in the first place) rose partly because of the climate. All this is part of the same cycle of cause and effect. We could not have changed what has happened and we are unlikely to make much impact now, if there are major changes on their way. We will, of course, adjust and have advantages over many other species in this. However, if the climate becomes too hostile to us, our numbers may be heavily reduced or we could even be wiped out.

  2. Chris Howard
    March 22, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    So, for those of us who have never published, and therefore are ignorant of the process, does this happen a lot?

    Is this politics (not necessarily governmental) entering in to the scientific arena, or am I just being paranoid?

    Hey! Now I know what it feels like to be a Conspiracy Theorist… not really. 😉

  3. Blargh
    March 22, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    What exactly are you basing those assumptions on?

    The history of Earth shows us that there have always been wide fluctuations in climate and it seems likely there always will be.

    Climate has changed before, but this time it’s our fault, and it’s changing at an unprecedented rate in human history.

    It seems sensible to suggest that recent changes have been exacerbated by the rise in our population and the advent of industry, we cannot calculate by what degree but that is surely irrelevant.

    We can and do calculate how much impact we humans are having – climatology wouldn’t be much of a science otherwise! And it is very much relevant, since we are the ones causing global warming now, and it’s not a good thing.

  4. Frederick
    March 22, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Yes it has happen before, But those changes happen over thousands and millions of years, right now it is happening In decades. follow the link blargh gave you it is a excellent site with full of real information and real science.
    Human have pump out so much carbon out of the ground, carbon that should have been trap there forever.

  5. March 22, 2014 at 7:15 PM

    It would be interesting to know if he has the legal right to resubmit it to a more spineful journal. The PLoS ONE study is still very much up: link to plosone.org

    Using the law to silence criticism (or even mockery) of your batshit insane conspiracist ideas is pretty low – it’s almost as if these kooks have no real arguments with which to refute the scientific consensus.

    Oh, wait…

  6. Lachlan
    March 22, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    Papers usually get retracted because the underlying data or its analysis is incorrect. I’d assume that grossly unethical work would also be retracted, although that wouldn’t apply here either.

    It’s probably not political, although the personal beliefs of the journal’s editorial board could be impacting the decision. I’d guess that the journal’s editorial board don’t want to deal with the controversy and bad publicity of having accepted the paper. But by retracting the paper due to the outcry, and not any factual errors, they’ve demonstrated that they care more about their own perception than scientific inquiry.

  7. neko
    March 23, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    Hmmmm… my statistics is really rusty and I’d have to carefully look at the study to see what it actually maintains is the correlation here. I’m always a little hesitant about the implications of this meta-social psychological connection. First, you have to psychologically define things that, I’m not sure lend themselves to good hard definition, like “what is a conspiracy theory?”. You have to be very careful about pathologizing packages of co-traveling political beliefs. I wonder if the “authoritarian index” lessons were fully learned.

    I know that’s not necessarily what they are saying, but that is clearly the media angle on this. Actually, I’m not sure what their point is. Is this really pushing to the frontiers of psychology to notice that certain beliefs are commonly held in Red States, more than Blue? Derp, is my response.

    I also thought the jokey-cheeky title of the paper is terrible. That’s just unnecessary and unhelpful. And, I have to say, probably looking with an eye to media attention. Maybe the paper’s great, but there is no need to be flippant if you’re trying to present a serious analysis, unless you are John Stewart. The follow up paper’s title showed the lesson went over their head, I think, or they got what they were hoping for by way of reaction the first time.

    I mean, aren’t they trying to provoke here? Even if their paper is great, the smoke around it makes it hard to cite as credible or free of bias when it sounds snide. I, neko, alone may sound snide as I trounce my enemies with the truth, and pull it off!

    In any case, even if the study is massively flawed or biased, going after the publisher with threats of “lawsuits” is a great way to demonstrate you are unreasonable yourself, I’m amazed at the screaming about lawsuits actually worked. I guess science journals are not used to the “letters to the editor” crowd of this sort. Sad.

    But, thankfully, now there is an alternative. I’m glad Al Gore got funding for that series of tubes back when, so now they can publish via this amazing system of open access vacuum canisters I keep hearing about.

  8. March 24, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    Frederick, it’s not correct to suggest that climate has never changed rapidly before. There have been a number of rapid ’tilts’ from one extreme to another. All have complex ’causes’.

    For example, we are still in the re-warming phase of the current Ice Age (there have been many) which was at its cold peak about twenty thousand years ago. A little less than thirteen thousand years ago, when Europe and North America had been gradually getting warmer – for over six thousand years – those parts suddenly reversed back into an ice age again. This is termed the ‘Younger Dryas’, or the mini Ice Age. This happened very quickly, within just a few decades. We are not sure why this happened, but it has been suggested that when the North American Ice Sheets melted (now the Great Lakes), the North Atlantic was flooded with icebergs down the St Lawrence seaway causing the continents on both sides to freeze up again. This period lasted for about one and a quarter thousand years, until warming re-started. All this had NOTHING TO DO WITH MAN!

    Everything is cause and effect. The Younger Dryas period could well have been the main catalyst that prompted some of our ancestors to change their previous hunter-gatherer, nomadic life-styles. The first little mud-brick houses were built (by Natufians in the Levant) and animal husbandry began.

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