Tag Archives: Stephan Lewandowsky

Failing at Control

Hey guys. It's time to resume the series of posts I'm writing about a series of papers, and a PHD dissertation based on them which got halted because I've been playing too many games of Rock, Paper, Scissors (if you want to know why I've been playing that, see here). Today I will be discussing how not only are the results the authors published based upon a inappropriate methodology, but fail a basic sanity check.
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Establishing Competency

A couple months ago I contacted a scientist asking to examine the data used in three papers which made up the bulk of her PhD dissertation. The initial response contained this:

Thank you very much for your email and interest in our publications.

We follow ethical guidelines from the American Psychological Association, and we are happy to share our data to other competent researchers. Would you please indicate your background and outline how you plan to use the data?

Which struck me as odd as I have no idea how one would determine which people are "competent researchers." I was pessimistic about this response as it seemed like this might be used as an excuse for not sharing data with me, but fortunately, the issue of whether or not I am a "competent" researcher never came up again.

After examining the data for these three papers, I came to the conclusion the papers were fundamentally flawed in a way which invalidated their analysis and conclusions. I informed the author of this thesis of my concerns and tried to give her time to examine the issue privately. I believe several months was long enough so now I'd like to discuss the matter in public. Hopefully, this will demonstrate I am in fact competent.
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This is Not Self-Plagiarism(?)

A little while back I wrote a post asking if something was an example of self-plagiarism. A person had had written a media article about a year ago. I noticed the text of that article had been copied near verbatim into a larger paper published in a scientific journal. I was uncertain if this would be considered self-plagiarism since the text originated in a non-journal article.

The obvious solution to me was to see what the journal had to say on self-plagiarism. I tried looking online to see what their policy was, but I couldn't find a clear answer. As such, I Contacted the journal to ask what their policy on self-plagiarism is in regard to matters like this. Today I'd like to review their ruling on the matter.
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Is This Self-Plagiarism?

Getting back to our discussion of the newest paper by Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, I'd like to discuss something about the paper I have found troubling since day one. I didn't bring this up before because I wanted to contact the journal about it first. You see, the paper is titled:

The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism

I immediately recognized this title because it was similar to one I had seen before:

'Alice through the Looking Glass' mechanics: the rejection of (climate) science

This is the title for a media article Lewnandowsky published on October 23rd, 2015. Its text was copied nearly verbatim into the new paper. Today, I'd like to discuss whether or not that qualifies as self-plagiarism.
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These Are Not Contradictions, Part Two

Yesterday's post focused on Table 1 of a recent paper by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky named "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism." This came after a post focusing on Table 2 of the paper. These posts focused on these two tables because there are no other figures or tables in the paper, causing these two tables to have the largest visual impact.

It was suggested to me I was unfair in pointing out the authors offered absolutely no evidence anyone believes the contradictions in Table 1 exist, or even that the stated beliefs are contradictory. The reason is the authors did give seven examples in their text with arguments and sources to support them. There are seven of these examples, whereas Table 1 is described as:

Over one hundred incoherent pairs of arguments can be found in contrarian discourse. (See www.skepticalscience.com/contradictions.php). In this article, we have explored a representative sample in some detail. For further illustration we show several other incoherent arguments in Table 1. Each of the arguments in the table is subject to the same critical analysis as the examples in the preceding sections.

Table 1 had some 20 different examples listed, and the text discussing it referred to there being over 100 examples in total. That seemed the most relevant topic to discuss. After all, even if all seven points of contradiction discussed in the body of the paper were real, that is only seven points on which various global warming skeptics disagree. That's hardly "incoherent." You could find just as many points of disagreement on most scientific issues.

Still, it is worth discussing those seven examples. As such, I will do so in today's post.
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The (Socialist) Nazis Did It!

In our last post, we looked at how a recent paper by the proprietor of the Skeptical Science website, a man named John Cook (and two co-authors), claimed global warming skeptics hold "incoherent" beliefs by grossly misrepresenting and distorting a variety of quotes.

Specifically, Table 2 of the paper provided quotations from several different skeptics which supposedly showed those skeptics contradicting themselves. This was a key issue for the paper, which was titled "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism" based on the well-known quote from the story Alice and Wonderland:

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

This is the key concept for the paper. It's entire concept rests on the idea skeptics hold "incoherent" beliefs because they are willing to and capable of holding contradictory beliefs at the same time. The evidence they offer to support this claim is bogus though. We can tell just by looking at Nazis.
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These Are Not Contradictions

As I discussed in the last post, a new paper titled, "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism" with John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky has a number of problems, including the one where Cook falsely claimed his own work and the work of others shows there is a consensus global warming is a "global problem." Cook and his co-authors know fully well none of the work they cite shows anything of the sort.

Another issue I commented on is how the paper claims global warming "contrarians" have incoherent belief systems in which they are content to believe contradictory things. This concept is founded on a paper by Michael Wood in which he misused basic statistical tests to draw conclusions about groups of people he had 0 data for. Lewandowsky has also used this same bogus approach to statistics in papers to portray global warming skeptics are conspiracy nuts even when his subjects overwhelmingly said they didn't believe in the conspiracies he smeared them with.

A related issue to this is how these authors give specific examples of how "contrarians" supposedly contradict themselves. In the previous post, I pointed out one key problem to this - the paper cites arguments from different people. That two different "contrarians" might hold contradictory beliefs is completely uninformative. Even climate scientists hold contradictory beliefs. It's called disagreement. It's a normal part of life.

Given that, the only real basis for this paper's headline is the set of examples where an individual supposedly contradicts himself. I discussed the headline example used in the paper in that last post, but today, I'm going to discuss a few of the other ones the authors offer.
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A New Consensus Paper, at First Blush

Today I wasted $15. I had seen this tweet by Skeptical Science team member Andy Skuce:

So naturally, I took a look at the paper he's promoting. The paper begins with two quotes:

“CO2CO2 keeps our planet warm ....”
— Ian Plimer, Australian climate “skeptic”, Heaven & Earth, p. 411
“Temperature and CO2CO2 are not connected.”
— Ian Plimer, Australian climate “skeptic”, Heaven & Earth, p. 278

It makes hay of how these two quotes are contradictory and a perfect example of how "contrarians" will believe multiple, contradictory things at the same time. This is a commom meme people like Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook have been trying to spread, and There is history with them using completely bogus "evidence" to make their case.

Given that, I decided to check the quotations for myself. I needn't have bothered though. It turns out the issue here is exactly what you would likely expect. So you don't have to spend $15 yourself, I'll explain.
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A New Secret Skeptical Science Paper and a New eBook

Hey guys. Today's post is an interesting one. As you guys may know, I've been accused of hacking Skeptical Science on occasion, and while it isn't true, I have had a history of finding things they post in publicly accessible locations which they would like nobody to see.

I've done that again. This time, I found a "CONFIDENTIAL" manuscript (archived here) the Skeptical Science group has apparently submitted for publication with a scientific journal. I don't know if the manuscript has been accepted, rejected or is still under review, but the fact they posted it in a publicly accessible location when it was supposed to be kept confidential is rather amusing.

I also found a copy of John Cook's PhD thesis (archived here), which I find incredibly lackluster. If it can earn him a PhD, then I don't think PhDs mean much of anything. I imagine he'll update it and improve it before actually submitting it, but I can't imagine any way in which it could be made not to... well, suck. And that's not just because he's wrong in a lot of what he says in it. Even if I agreed with his conclusions, I'd still say it was unimpressive.

In any event, this latest discovery has given me the motivation and material to finish an eBook I've been wanting to publish for a while now. You can find it here:

It's a bit more personal than the last two eBooks I wrote, as I was directly involved in much of what it discusses, but I'd like to think I found a good balance to keep it from just being a mini-biography. I hope you'll agree. If you don't want to risk 99 cents to find out, you can download a free PDF copy here.

Now like my last two eBooks, this one is ~10,000 words long, so it shouldn't take too long to get through. Unlike the last two, it doesn't really cover any technical subjects so it should be easier to follow (though I'd like to think the others were easy enough to follow). It also doesn't cover everything as there are tons of topics and points I'd have liked to discuss but only so much room. I'd like to think I hit the most important points though.

Of course, with me having only recently discovered the latest paper by the Skeptical Science group, this eBook doesn't cover all the issues it might have. Because of that, I highly recommend people check out the paper themselves. The author list alone should prove it will be interesting:

John Cook1,2,3, Naomi Oreskes4, Peter T. Doran5, William R. L. Anderegg6,7, Bart Verheggen8, Ed W. Maibach9, J. Stuart Carlton10, Stephan Lewandowsky11,2, Andrew G. Skuce13, Sarah A. Green12, Dana Nuccitelli3, Peter Jacobs9, Mark Richardson14, Bärbel Winkler3, Rob Painting3, Ken Rice15

The normal Cook et al group is there, but so are people like Ken Rice, also known as the blogger Anders and Stephan Lewandowsky, famous for finding global warming skeptics are conspiracy nuts by taking basically no data and just assuming the lack of data proved his preconceived beliefs.

But what makes this paper truly remarkable is what these people say. For instance, while the Skeptical Science group had previously portrayed their consensus findings as being based on people having only read the title and abstracts for various papers, this paper now admits:

During the rating process of C13, raters were presented only with the paper title and abstract to base their rating on. Tol (2015) queries what steps were taken to prevent raters from gathering additional information. While there was no practical way of preventing such an outcome, raters conducted further investigation by perusing the full paper on only a few occasions, usually to clarify ambiguous abstract language.

The raters cheated. They looked at information they weren't supposed to look at when doing their ratings. They openly discussed having done so in their forums, with neither John Cook nor any other author of the paper speaking up to say it was wrong. And then, for years, they pretended this never happened.

But now, they insist everything is okay because the raters only cheated a few times. They offer no evidence for this claim, and it would be completely impossible to know the claim is true. Even so, they want to publish this under with expectation people should just trust them.

Similarly, they both acknowledge and distort another issue:

Raters had access to a private discussion forum which was used to design the study, distribute rating guidelines and organise analysis and writing of the paper. As stated in C13: "some subjectivity is inherent in the abstract rating process. While criteria for determining ratings were defined prior to the rating period, some clarifications and amendments were required as specific situations presented themselves". These "specific situations" were raised in the forum.

The raters didn't just talk to one another about clarifications and amendments. That's an obvious misrepresentation anyone who actually read what they said to one another in their forums would know is false. On a number of occasions, raters simply asked one another how they would rate papers, not saying a word about wanting any standards or guidelines clarified.

But even with that distortion in place, this admission is huge. The original Skeptical Science consensus paper stressed that the raters were independent of one another. That's a huge stretch given they were all members of the same activist group, were mostly friends with one another and were in direct communication with one another. It's an impossible stretch, however, once you admit they were talking to one another about how to perform the ratings they were supposedly doing independently.

What's perhaps most interesting, however, is Table 1 of this new paper. It lists a number of papers supposedly finding a consensus on global warming, and in it, there is a column for "Definition of consensus." This would have been a perfect opportunity to highlight and contrast the various definitions of the global warming consensus, explicitly stating what Cook et al had found. It doesn't. Instead of giving any explicit definition, they just copy the rating categories:

1. Explicitly states that humans are
the primary cause of recent global
warming
2. Explicitly states humans are
causing global warming
3. Implies humans are causing global
warming.
4a. Does not address or mention the
cause of global warming
4b. Expresses position that human’s
role on recent global warming is
uncertain/undefined
5. Implies humans have had a
minimal impact on global warming
without saying so explicitly
6. Explicitly minimizes or rejects that
humans are causing global warming
7. Explicitly states that humans are
causing less than half of global
warming

Intentionally not explaining what consensus definition you get when you combine these categories. This is interesting mostly because if one looks at the rest of Table 1, they see no other paper gets a 97% consensus without using a weak definition or arbitrarily limiting what portions of its results to use. Instead, you get values as low as 40% or as high as 93%. In many ways, this paper shows there is no meaningful 97% consensus.

Of course, its authors would never say so. They'll try to spin everything they find to support their consensus message, even if that means trying to excuse what were basically lies about the methodology of papers. Cook's PhD thesis is perhaps worse, with it repeating a number of falsehoods and even re-using at least one quote he knows fully well has been fabricated.

But to be honest, the thing I find most fascinating is I found these documents in the exact same way I found the Skeptical Science consensus paper's data. The Skeptical Science group called me a criminal who had hacked into their server to get that data. If what I did then was hacking, why would they still allow anyone to do it and find new material? Why are they posting "CONFIDENTIAL" material in publicly accessible locations then handing out the URL to that material?

It's mind-boggling. I'm sure some people will claim I've "hacked" Skeptical Science again, but come on! It's been over a year since I described exactly how I found the secret material last time. Why can I still find more secret material in the exact same way?! That the consensus message is being crafted by people this incompetent is dumbfounding.

Anyway, feel free to give my new eBook a look and tell me what you think. It's fine even if you want to tell me it is complete garbage. I think most writers tell themselves the same thing plenty of times about most things they write.

Fuller's "Pogrom"

A common topic in blog discussions is tone. It's usually a waste of time. People complain about what name a person calls them, how people phrase their criticisms and all sorts of other stuff that's just... boring. It's so bad there's a phrase for it, "tone trolling." You may remember this came up during a funny Twitter exchange where after I said:

The blogger Anders responded:

My response to Anders shows how bad things have gotten. People have gotten so used to complaining about and hearing complaints about tone they just expect it all the time. I was actively insulting Anders during our exchange, and he still somehow managed to believe I was complaining about his tone. And the truth is, many people would.

That's what I want to highlight today. Thomas Fuller, a blogger whose book I recently criticized with some harshness, recently banned Anders from his site. Visiting the post where he announced this, we find:

You’re a KKK member looking to kneecap your policy opponents no matter what they believe about the science.

That's pretty vile. I get why a blogger would ban users who write comments including remarks like that. I don't think tone is all that important for discussions, but even so, I accept there are lines. Calling people KKK members is inexcusable.

The problem is Fuller said that, not Anders. Anders was banned for bad behavior by a person who said, "You disgust me" while calling him a KKK member. Apparently Anders had a reason to think I might complain about his tone while insulting him.
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