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Lewandowsky part VIII: Formal moves for a Governance Review of the STW blog.

Some skeptics wonder why I bother pursing and documenting the problems with Lewandowsky et al 2012 and with the blog ShapingTomorrowsWorld. They figure that all skeptics now know the papers dismal failings, and it’s clear that Lewandowsky is unlikely to be grateful for the help.

But Lewandowsky exposes people higher up to awkward questions. Why do they fund work so unscientific? Why do they allow such hypocrisy and bias on a government funded publication? Are standards at the University of Western Australia (UWA) so low that they can’t find a Professor who understands the scientific method, and can reason without name-calling? Aren’t other statisticians at UWA concerned at what Lewandowsky is doing to the reputation of “UWA Statistics”? Finally, aren’t the scientists who missed out on ARC funding angry that our taxpayer funds are given instead to someone who apparently uses the funds to promote his personal political views, instead of in the pursuit of knowledge? (See: Lewandowsky gets $1.7m of taxpayer funds to denigrate people who disagree with him)

The abject incompetence is a gift to us. Rarely is a study so outrageously bad that people with no scientific background can understand why it has no value and was never likely to produce anything useful. Behind the scenes, people are writing to the staff at the University of Western Australia at several levels.

Michael Kile (see below) has gone a step further and has raised the issue at the last UWA Convocation meeting on Sept 21 to put it on the official document trail. The Vice Chancellor was in attendance. The Chairman, who is Warden of Convocation, also happens to be on the board of the blog: ShapingTomorrowsWorld, where Lewandowsky  writes. Hmm.

It may be purely coincidental, but since this meeting Lewandowsky has not posted anything on his blog. Steve McIntyre has posted two further articles (here and here). Has someone had a quiet word to Lewandowsky? Plus, we note, Psychological Science must be due to release its October journal, but there is no mention of the paper … yet.

I particularly like Kile’s point that the blog policy declares that No ad hominem attacks are allowed (Note 4). So commenters are warned against using the words conspiracy or denier, and yet Lewandowsky himself can write a peer reviewed paper which does exactly that. His research apparently amounts to rank namecalling, discussing “deniers” who believe in any conspiracy — as such, the paper is just peer reviewed defamation by any other name.

If no further progress is made there is an option to call an Extraordinary Meeting of Convocation at UWA to resolve this issue, which would attract attention. Oh yes, this would be quite unusual step. When I searched for ‘“Extraordinary meeting of convocation” UWA’ it turns up only one hit globally (which, as it happens, is for a different university).

If you happen to be a member of Convocation at UWA please get in touch with me, “joanne AT joannenova.com.au”. We would like to hear from you.

— Jo

Guest Post by Michael Kile



I attended the second Convocation Meeting, the University of Western Australia Graduates Association, on Friday 21 September.

The Chair of the meeting was Associate Professor David Hodgkinson, Warden of Convocation.

Professor Paul Johnson, the University’s new Vice Chancellor, was guest speaker. Before his insightful speech on “The Changing Role of Universities in the Twenty-First Century”, I made the following statement during the Meeting’s consideration of Other Business.

Mr Chairman, Vice Chancellor and Members,

All of us here are committed to enhancing the University’s reputation and to ensuring good governance prevails on campus.

 In this context, I want to mention the University-funded website: Shaping Tomorrow’s World. A number of alumni are concerned about the tone and quality of recent activity here [during September, 2102]. We wonder whether its operation is consistent with Convocation’s aims and the University’s mission to “achieve international excellence”.

Mr Chairman, [in your capacity as a member of STW’s Editorial Board], could you clarify at some stage if there is any governance provision that would require an STW Board member or Principal to, for example,

(i)  stand aside if under investigation by the University for alleged breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007), or for any other complaints regarding research misconduct; and

(ii)  cease involvement in the site’s management during the duration of any investigation, with reinstatement depending on the outcome?”

The Warden replied that he would discuss my request with the STW Editorial Board and prepare a formal response for the next Convocation meeting in early 2013.

The Warden also was asked later to include STW’s moderator policy in the governance review.

Michael Kile

Note 1: UWA defines research misconduct as: “fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the research community for proposing, conducting or reporting research….. It does not include honest errors or honest differences in interpretation or judgements of data.”

Note 2: The STW site “was made possible by a grant from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Western Australia and by the support of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University.”

Note 3: STW’s comments policy includes these rules:

Note 4: There appear to have been recent instances where legitimate comments were deleted; while many others – especially those containing words such as “conspiracy”, “denier” and “denialist” – somehow escaped moderator scrutiny, despite STW’s comments policy.

The two posts below, for example, were deleted by STW’s moderator allegedly because they contained “extensive quote”, despite clearly being very relevant to the discussion thread.

GrantB at 00:55 AM on 20 September, 2012

From Mr McIntyre’s post that you refuse to link to, a psychologist writes:

The authors are certainly well aware that the “significance” of this correlation is beside the point. With very large degrees of freedom virtually any correlation is likely to be “significant”. The relevant question is whether the size of the correlation is at all interesting. Even accepting the doubtful premiss that this is a sensible way of computing the correlation in question, this one suggests that about 1.5 percent of the variance between the two variables is shared. Most sensible people would see this as not very much. Add to this the fact that it is a computation over a data set comprising strings of ordinal values with a very truncated range and you start to worry. Add to this the acknowledged extreme vulnerability of the data set to the effects of rogue data points (and there are many) and you start to worry more. Add to this the fact (I think “fact” is justified) that the data were collected in a sloppy way, and worry segues into despair. I am a professional psychologist. Psychology has contributed a great deal to the practical application of statistics and is justifiably proud of this fact. It is extremely unfortunate (I am tempering my words) to see my discipline made into a laughing stock by “green” activists. The more so, because the authors of this paper with their professional hats on are very well aware of all these points and chose to ignore them because of their somewhat warped perception of the greater good.

My experience of academic life in Australia was that fellow psychologists had a commendably low threshold for detecting nonsense and a robust way of showing it. Where are they now?

GrantB at 01:01 AM on 20 September, 2012

From Mr McIntyres most recent post that you obviously weren’t aware of before you started this thread, the very same psychologist writes –

I think you are far too kind to these authors. The department of psychology to which they are affiliated will certainly offer a statistics course. Now that R has pretty well displaced SPSS, texts like Crawley’s “Statistics”, or something like it, will routinely be used as an introduction. So students will know when linear regression is seriously ill-advised – it’s usually in Chapter 1 and is often asked about in examinations. They will have been taught how to do Q-Q plots to identify and deal with outliers. They will know about Cook’s distance. Students will know about the difficulties inherent in analysing count and categorical data. They will have been taught some measurement theory (Australian psychologists made important contributions to this topic). I don’t know whether they are routinely taught about robust regression, but they will have been taught about related concepts in the context of analysis of variance. And so on … and so on. These issues are all in the standard texts. I simply cannot believe the authors don’t know about them. Indeed, I can’t believe they don’t know a lot more than their students. So they have a much more serious charge to answer.


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