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Journal admits Lewandowsky paper retracted because it failed. Twice!

Relish this win.

Recursive Fury, the ideated paper that Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook and Michael Hubble-Marriott tried to publish early last year, was of such poor quality that it was placed in the scientific limbo-land of being not withdrawn, not retracted, and not published for almost 12 months. Lewandowsky previously published an article claiming skeptics believed the Moon Landing was faked, based on only 10 anonymous internet responses gleaned from sites that hate skeptics.  Recursive Fury made out that skeptics who objected this previous paper were barking-mad conspiracy theorists with nefarious intent.

Finally, a  week ago, the journal issued a strange but brief official retraction notice. Bizarrely, despite the ignominious failure, Lewandowsky and many others played the victim card, fanning the idea that legal threats had stopped them from publishing a paper that was otherwise academically and ethically fine. The howls of faux-outrage grew, as usual, over-played to the point where they became self-defeating.

Now Frontiers, the journal, already suffering from being associated with such dubious work, has finally had to set the record straight and defend their reputation. They had not caved in to bullying, or legal threats from the evil denier machine. Actually there were no threats at all, and the  complaints they received from skeptics “were well argued and cogent”. (See below).

Furthermore the journal admitted it had taken a whole year to retract the paper because Frontiers asked Lewandowsky et al to resubmit, and they did, only to fail a second time to produce a paper worth publishing.

I’d like to thank the Frontiers editorial staff for choosing the right path (albeit a bit slowly), and just say “Welcome to the Climate Wars”. It’s fun isn’t it?

In my opinion Frontiers should have never published the profoundly unscientific work in the first place.

It boggles the mind that Lewandowsky (a Psychology Professor), and Cook (who is doing a PhD in Psychology) so misread the situation, and know so little about … you know, psychology. Lewandowksy either bragged or gloated and advertised his seemingly narcissistic views without realizing that he was drawing attention to his own grand failure, and hurting the very journal that had tried to help him. Cook evidently did not see the train wreck coming either. The pain-quotient for the journal finally reached the point where the journal had to act. It was so inevitable. Once again, Lewandowsky, Cook and Marriott have been shown to have little grip on what is reasonable. Lewandowsky was so delighted with the false fury in the media he listed it all again in his blog. Apparently The Guardian fell for the hyped up bullying claim. Elaine McKewon, a reviewer, tried to whip up sympathy on The Conversation, Scientific American and Socialscienceplace (the latter has already added the Frontiers clarification). Techdirt also got caught. Desmog obediently whipped up false angst. How many will correct their record? Are they even interested in truth?

In the end, remember, Recursive Fury is one of Lewandowsky’s proudest seminal achievements, one of his “most read papers“. This is Lewandowsky, below, framing the sensible objections to his work as cyber bullying, public abuse, trolling, vexatious, did I mention sadistic?

The strategies employed in those attacks follow a common playbook, regardless of which scientific proposition is being denied and regardless of who the targeted scientists are: There is cyber-bullying and public abuse by “trolling” (which recent research has linked to sadism); there is harassment by vexatious freedom-of-information (FOI) requests; there are the complaints to academic institutions; legal threats; and perhaps most troubling, there is the intimidation of journal editors and publishers who are acting on manuscripts that are considered inconvenient.

Such restraint. Marvel that he left out the pedophilia!

Credit for this unequivocal win goes to Stephen McIntyre, Barry Woods, Shub Niggurath, Geoff Chambers, Foxgoose, Brandon Shollenberger, Paul Matthews, Lucia, and Anthony Watts (see his letter). In Perth, James Doogue and Michael Kile have also applied calm relentless pressure. Thank you to everyone who helped.

Now we ought turn our focus to UWA, which is still hosting a copy of the failed paper and refusing to release data to Steve McIntyre. It’s time also to talk to the ARC which funded the entire fiasco, and to The Royal Society, and the University of Bristol, which both fund and endorse the naked ad hominem attacks of Lewandowsky.

Frontiers in Psychology issue new statement

(My bolding)

(Lausanne, Switzerland) – There has been a series of media reports concerning the recent retraction of the paper Recursive Fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation, originally published on 18 March 2013 in Frontiers in Psychology. Until now, our policy has been to handle this matter with discretion out of consideration for all those concerned. But given the extent of the media coverage – largely based on misunderstanding – Frontiers would now like to better clarify the context behind the retraction.

 As we published in our retraction statement, a small number of complaints were received during the weeks following publication. Some of those complaints were well argued and cogent and, as a responsible publisher, our policy is to take such issues seriously. Frontiers conducted a careful and objective investigation of these complaints. Frontiers did not “cave in to threats”; in fact, Frontiers received no threats. The many months between publication and retraction should highlight the thoroughness and seriousness of the entire process.

 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. Frontiers informed the authors of the conclusions of our investigation and worked with the authors in good faith, providing them with the opportunity of submitting a new paper for peer review that would address the issues identified and that could be published simultaneously with the retraction notice.

The authors agreed and subsequently proposed a new paper that was substantially similar to the original paper and, crucially, did not deal adequately with the issues raised by Frontiers.

We remind the community that the retracted paper does not claim to be about climate science, but about psychology. The actions taken by Frontiers sought to ensure the right balance of respect for the rights of all.

One of Frontiers’ founding principles is that of authors’ rights. We take this opportunity to reassure our editors, authors and supporters that Frontiers will continue to publish – and stand by – valid research. But we also must uphold the rights and privacy of the subjects included in a study or paper.

Frontiers is happy to speak to anyone who wishes to have an objective and informed conversation about this. In such a case, please contact the Editorial Office at [email protected].

Costanza Zucca, Editorial Director

Fred Fenter, Executive Editor

UPDATE: Part of the problem here is the conflict between the initial retraction statement and the update above. The journal should have issued the full reasoning at the start (or really, when the paper was put in limbo a year ago).

Lucia points out the authors (Lewandowsky etc) helped write the original vaporous retraction note — this is from Lewandowsky himself:

“The authors were involved in drafting the retraction statement and sanction its content: We understand the journal’s position even though we do not agree with it.”

You can’t make this stuff up…


Lewandowsky, S., Cook, H., Oberauer, K., and Marriott, M. (2013) Recursive fury: conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation, Front. Psychol. 4:73. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073   [Abstract]

RetractionWatch has of course covered this sordid unscientific story several times. Their latest.

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