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Lewandowsky – Shows “skeptics” are nutters by asking alarmists to fill out survey

I‘m putting on a conservative, understated hat. This could be the worst paper  I have seen — an ad hom argument taken to its absurd extreme, rebadged as “science”.

Professorial fellow Stephan Lewandowsky thinks that skeptics who are “greatly involved” in the climate debate believe any kind of conspiracy theory, including that the moon landings never happened, that AIDS is not due to HIV, and that smoking doesn’t cause cancer. But he didn’t find this out by asking skeptics who are “greatly involved” in the climate debate or by reading their popular sites.  He “discovered” this by asking 1,000 visitors to climate blogs. Which blogs? He expertly hunted down skeptics, wait for it…  here:

This is the point where the question has to be asked: Did Lewandowsky, Oberauer,  and  Gignac really think they would get away with it? Did none of the reviewers at Psychological Science think to ask if the “sampling” of alarmist blogs would affect the results?

The paper is titled:

“NASA faked the moon landing  — Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax:

An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science”

  Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K., & Gignac, C. E. (in press) Psychological Science

Faked the Moon landing? Not only do skeptics agree that the moon landing was real, two skeptics actually went to the moon and took photos (that’ll be Harrison Schmidt and Buzz Aldrin). Since many guys with years of top NASA service are skeptics too why doesn’t Lewandowsky ask them if they faked it? This is where cumulative nonsense takes us: the golden path to cosmic inanity.

Given that the survey audience was mostly alarmist (see the blog list above), and the survey’s intent was clear to commenters on those sites (see their comments below), its possible the team has “discovered” that some alarmist readers are prepared to fake the answers that they’d really like to see. The survey was so transparently designed to link climate skeptics with “conspiracy nutters” it would hardly be surprising if a percentage of alarmists readers of those blogs understood what was required, and dutifully performed.

Commenters could see what the survey was “getting at”:

 pointer | August 30, 2010 at 11:42 am

Yeah, those conspiracy theory questions were pretty funny, but does anyone think that hardcore deniers are going to be fooled by such a transparent attempt to paint them as paranoids?

Also, here are two words that, when put together, ought to make anyone critical of this research: “online” and “survey”.


Rattus Norvegicus  August 29, 2010, 11:30 pm

Eh, it was pretty easy to figure out what they were looking at. Perceived SES vs. support of “free market” ideology vs. subscription to conspiracy theories vs. acceptance of well formed scientific consensus.



“i am looking forward to the results of this one. but i fear very few denialists will take it.”


Dan  August 31, 2010, 6:52 pm

… I think the “conspiracy theory” section is too heavy-handed to be useful. There’s no chance that people won’t figure out what the survey is looking for here, and everyone knows that “conspiracy theory!!” is pejorative.



I would have thought that inviting Deltoid readers to participate in a questionnaire of this sort is likely to produce statistically skewed results since it likely to encounter a preponderance of respondents who are “pro-science” rather than “skeptical of science”.


If he really wanted to know what skeptics thought, surely he would have asked skeptical bloggers?

UPDATED: Lewandowsky claimed he asked 5 skeptical bloggers to host the survey, but he refused to name them for weeks after that claim was made in the mainstream media. He claimed there were “privacy” and “ethics” concerns about naming the blogs he had chosen for his research, and had emailed for his work. This seemed a thin excuse given that they were emails sent on his behalf of work paid by taxpayers. Privacy? I don’t think so. Lewandowsky taunted skeptics, but didn’t help them find those emails by giving out any identifying phrases, or giving skeptics the name of the assistant who sent them. What you see (below) are skeptics responding to my request to look for emails about a survey from Lewandowsky. Naturally, no one could find them, since they were sent by Charles Hanich (a research assistant not named on the paper). Strangely, they approached 8 alarmist bloggers and ran the survey before even emailing a skeptic. Lewandowsky used a research assistant  to send a single email to the five skeptics, with little follow up. Not surprisingly he hardly got any response.

People who run high traffic sites receive hundreds of emails a day, including spam survey’s. Most didn’t even notice the email. After skeptics had found four of the five without his help (eventually), then Lewandowsky finally named the “five” (which doesn’t include Junkscience which did host the survey) and does include SPPI.

I’m adding in the names of skeptics who confirm they were not asked to host this survey.

Tally so far: skeptics asked = 5 confirmed;  not asked = 25.

The emails were sent from an unnamed assistant on Sept 6 2010 to ClimateAudit Roger Pielke Jnr, Roy Spencer,

and then belatedly to JunkScience, Marc Morano. on Sept 23rd, 2010.

Stephan claims he asked five skeptical sites “who all refused to promote it”, but I hear he has so far refused to reveal which blogs turned him down. He didn’t ask me, nor Jeff at The Air Vent, not Benny Peiser of GWPF, Tom Nelson, not Viv Forbes of CarbonSense and he didn’t ask Anthony Watts.

UPDATE:  Adept at the game of not asking the right people, Stephan also did not ask Simon at Australian Climate Madness, Jennifer Marohasy, David Stockwell at Niche Modeling, Donna La Framboise, Steve Goreham at ClimateScienceAmerica, Lucia Lilegren — The Blackboard, ‘Luboš Motl’ at The Reference Frame, or, and this truly defies belief, how could he not send the link to Marc Morano of Climate Depot, the man who posts every insult aimed at skeptics for all the world to see?

UPDATE #2: The mystery grows. Stephan Lewandowsky could only afford 5 emails to skeptics — but so far we can’t find the sites he must have carefully chosen. Roger Pielke Snr knows nothing of the survey, Bob Ferguson of the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) wasn’t asked, Craig Idso of CO2Science and Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) weren’t either.

UPDATE #3: Roger Pielke Jnr was likewise not given the opportunity to host a link, and Roy Spencer* (see #12 below) gets a gold star from me for replying in a flash with this. 😀
“Nope, it doesn’t look like I was contacted.  Good thing…as an ex-NASA employee, I’m prohibited from discussing the moon “landings” . 😉
UPDATE #4: Andrew Montford of Bishop Hill and Joseph Bast at the Heartland Institute confirm they weren’t asked either.
UPDATE #5: Steve McIntyre (Climate Audit) and Roger (Tallbloke) also were not asked either.
UPDATE #6: Tom from Climate Change Dispatch adds his name to the list, making it 25 skeptics not asked.
UPDATE #7: Richard Treadgold at the Climate Conversation Group makes it 26.
UPDATE #8: Steve McIntyre has found an email from Charles Hanich at UWA, so I’ve taken his blog off the list. It’s good to know at least one blog was contacted, though it would also be good to see that email. McIntyre simply didn’t notice the email, which is not unusual for an email to a high traffic blogger. He did not “Decline” or respond.
UPDATE #9: Junk science did get an email and did host it (with a warning). Lewandowsky evidentally was unaware that Junkscience hosted the link? (see the  JunkScience Archive.)
UPDATE #10: Andrew Bolt was not asked
UPDATE #11: Roger Pielke Jnr has realized that he was sent an email by Charles Hanich (not that Stephan Lewandowsky has mentioned that on his blog to help skeptics find those emails). There was no mention of Lewandowsky in the text or subject of the email, nor of the other authors. The survey type was a fourth different survey url (surveyID=HKMKNH_7ea60912). Pielke replied, asking for more details and warned them they might get repeated anonymous replies and studies like theirs were unlikely to be methodologically rigorous. He asked, “Can you tell me a bit more about the study and the research design?” Hanich tried to answer, but Pielke immediately responded with the warning about multiple anonymous respondents. Hanich took til sept 13th to reply again and explained why they chose not to block multiple IP’s. Evidentally this did not convince Pielke.
If Stephan Lewandowsky had emailed skeptic bloggers in the same way he emailed some (or all?) the alarmists, the mystery of “which” five bloggers  he contacted would have been solved much faster. Of course, it would have been even better if he had named them in the methods in his paper.

*UPDATE #12: Roy Spencer finds the email from “Hanich” on Sept 6th. It’s the same  url link as Pielke Jnr (http://www.kwiksurveys.com/online-survey.php?surveyID=HKMKNH_7ea60912 )

UPDATE #13: Marc Morano finds an email on Sept 23rd, 2010.  http://www.kwiksurveys.com/online-survey.php?surveyID=HKMKNI_9a13984

Skeptics have figured out the five blogs who were “approached” with no thanks to Lewandowsky who belatedly said “search on Sept 23rd”, for an email from his assistant whom he did not name who had sent out 3 emails on Sept 6th.



It’s as if Stephan did not want to know what real skeptics think?

How many posts or articles or links to Lady Di, HIV doubt, and claims that smoking does not cause cancer would be found in a 2 minutes search of the highest traffic web sites above, or any of those sites? Would that be zero or is it less?

But it was aimed at skeptical blogs…

In the press release he tells us who this research was focused on:

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have examined what motivates people who are greatly involved in the climate debate to reject scientific evidence. (my bolding)

Who else is “greatly involved” in the climate debate and “rejects science”?  Obviously he means the leading skeptics and those who agree with them. Equally obviously he doesn’t mean science in the same way that Bohr, Newton and Maxwell did. They would turn in their graves at the idea that a consensus of experts was evidence. He means rejecting Lewandowsky-Science, which is his consensus-fallacy-view-of-the-world. (Dear Stephan, please name the evidence that “deniers” deny?)

Lewandowsky et al discuss “bloggers” and their influence and found that:

…”free-market ideology was an overwhelmingly strong determinant of the rejection of climate science.  It also predicted the rejection of the link between tobacco and lung cancer and between HIV and AIDS. Conspiratorial thinking was a lesser but still significant determinant of the rejection of all scientific propositions examined, from climate to lung cancer.”

So he’s inferring a link between readers of major skeptical blogs and dubious science, even though he didn’t survey readers of those blogs, and didn’t find articles about those topics on those blogs either. (How big a grant do you need to run a search engine over Watts Up looking for “Princess Diana”?) He’s also trying to badge “free market” thinkers as “deniers” who reject science, though he apparently didn’t survey the major free market blogs either.

Somehow the “professorial fellow” apparently didn’t read the comments, or think of the possibility that what he really surveyed was 1,000 alarmists who pretended to respond as skeptics. Or if he did think of it, I can’t find a mention of that in the paper. He describes the sites listed above as “diverse”. This, below, is the only discussion of “audience” in the paper. He thinks those sites have “diverse” audiences.

Visitors to climate blogs voluntarily completed an online questionnaire between
August and October 2010 (N = 1377). Links were posted on 8 blogs (with a pro-science
science stance but with a diverse audience); a further 5 \skeptic” (or \skeptic”-leaning)
blogs were approached but none posted the link.

This study has been picked up by journalists who ought to have been asking a few scientific questions about it, instead of lapping it up: The Guardian by Adam Corner last month, and The Telegraph yesterday.

It is noted at Bishop Hill and Lubos Motl even has his own “pollrunning. Thomas Richard at The Examiner discusses the failures of the only survey question he can find.

Ultimately the answer about planetary thermodynamics is not going to be found in “evidence” from internet surveys.

It is time to start asking the ARC questions about what kind of science they are funding.


(If you could call it that)

Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K., & Gignac, C. E. (in press). NASA faked the moon landing—therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science.. Psychological Science.


Hat tip to Barry Woods, Foxgoose, Lionell, Graham, Geoff Chambers and another reader from afar. I will have plenty more to say on this.

 UPDATED: The post was rearranged to position the updates into the narrative, and the summary of the events was added to explain the original post. (Oct 6, 2012).


PART I (this page)  Lewandowsky – Shows “skeptics” are nutters by asking alarmists to fill out survey

PART II  10 conspiracy theorists makes a moon landing paper for Stephan Lewandowsky (Part II) PLUS all 40 questions

PART III  Lewandowsky hopes we meant “Conspiracy” but we mean  “Incompetence”

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