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Lewandowsky gets $1.7m of taxpayer funds to denigrate people who disagree with him

Posted By Joanne Nova On September 14, 2012 @ 8:11 pm In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles Gignac, Klaus Oberauer

Stephen Lewandowsky’s paper, soon to be published in Psychological Science, appears to be drawn from one or two grants from the Australian Research Council that total nearly a million dollars (though it’s not entirely clear which grants apply to the paper).

“If you wonder, like I do, whether the Australian taxpayer gets value for money, ponder that somewhere a cancer researcher was denied funding in order for Lewandowsky to do his work”

One grant, which he shares with coauthor Dr Klaus Oberauer, was for $694,000 for research on “Keeping Memory Current: Updating and Discounting of Information“. Apparently it is of national benefit, because: “Basic research in psychology is of particular national benefit because the available national research funding is commensurate with the requirements of world-class research in psychology.” “World class” does not usually mean research based on a logical error with a sample too small to be statistically significant and using a self-selecting, unsecure, sample from sites that detest the research group. Aside from that, the sentence itself is circular bureaucratese-babble. What does it mean? Is he suggesting that research in basic psychology is useful because taxpayer funds are only given to world class research? Since when was government funding itself a guarantor of “world class”?  The other grant, which he shares with co-author Dr Gilles Gignac, was for $244,000 and called “Categorization and Working Memory: Bridging two Pillars of Cognition.” Both of those two grants finished in 2011, so apparently do not provide funding for 2012.

Above this, he has received a grant of $765,000 to further study the role of intelligence in “expertise”. Hmm.

UWA: Achieving International Excellence, or international notoriety?

Who is responsible for the decision to fund this work?

If you wonder, like I do, whether the Australian taxpayer gets value for money, ponder that somewhere a cancer researcher was denied funding in order for Lewandowsky to do his work. Instead of helping people with motor neuron disease, say, or Parkinsons, our government directed money to the overtly politicized team to find reasons why people who speak against government-appointed experts (but not independent experts) are likely to be mentally deficient “conspiracy theorists”, even if they personally have never espoused the conspiracies named in the UWA media release. Surely this is government-funded denigration by association.

If you are concerned, it’s worth focusing on the Australian Research Council (ARC), which made the decision to fund Lewandowsky and UWA so generously (how much does an internet survey cost?). The man responsible for the ARC is Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. He needs to justify why our funds are being used this way.

Why does the Australian Labor Party use taxpayer resources for name-calling professors to do incompetent research, to come up with conclusions that are not meaningful for public policy, and indeed which unfairly and flagrantly disparages the views of half the voting public?

Some flaws in Lewandowsky et al 2012:

  1. The entire work is based on a logical fallacy – argument from authority — but particularly, that experts paid by the government are 100% right, and independent scientists are 100% wrong or corrupt. Lewandowsky cannot name empirical evidence to support his base assumptions about a complex scientific phenomenon in an immature scientific field, and does not take into account that committees, associations, the “peer reviewed” scientific process are human activities dependent on imperfect human opinion and potentially corruptible. If his assumption is wrong, everything about his research is meaningless, yet he does not reference empirical climate evidence.
  2. His sample size is too small to be statistically meaningful. This single point on its own prevents any meaningful scientific conclusions about “conspiracy ideation”.
  3. His sampling method was likely to be scammed by fake responses, and if the responses that are likely to be fake are removed his conclusions would be entirely different. He did not take adequate precautions to stop fake responses, even though his conclusions are utterly dependent on them (see Steve McIntyres analysis). His use of vitriolic anti-skeptic sites made the fake responses nearly inevitable, and the nature of the fake responses (like a belief that smoking doesn’t cause cancer) matches misinformation on those anti-skeptic sites rather than any belief ever cited by real skeptics. His work fails by his own standards: He describes a different survey as worthless because they cannot verify the integrity of the data, but he cannot verify his own data.
  4. Lewandowsky has not reported 25% of the answers to his questions, nor the results of a version hosted by an internal UWA site,  leaving open questions of “cherry picked” conclusions.
  5. He frequently uses unscientific name-calling that he has not justified either in English or scientific terms. What scientific observations do “deniers” deny, or do “deniers” simply deny that official government positions are 100% right?
  6. He defines “science” as a consensus conclusion which is counter to the scientific method, and breaks a basic tenet of science that conclusions are based on empirical evidence and not on opinions.
  7. Despite basing his conclusions on something called “Conspiracy Ideation” he is unable to define conspiracy scientifically, evidently defining a conspiracy as a theory that he personally does not agree with.
  8. A researcher with an equal but opposite personal bias could produce exactly the opposite conclusion (but without basing their work on a logical fallacy) by creating a self-selecting on-line survey that asks questions about green left conspiracies, posting it on anti-green sites, and with only a sample of 10 positive responses “show” that those who believe in man-made global warming did so because they held anti-free market philosophies, because they gullibly assumed that government funded work was always right, and because they believed in outlandish conspiracy theories that fossil fuel corporations were funding thousands of scientists. These conspiracy theorists denied conclusive documented evidence showing that funding for man-made global warming was 3,500 times larger than funding for skeptics of the theory and that  large fossil fuel corporations were actively lobbying for carbon markets(see point 2) rather than against them.

In response to claims that the “faked data” neutralized his conclusions, Lewandowsky retroactively deleted references to it in comments on his publicly funded site, wrote attempted parody instead of an answer, and then finally claimed he was right because he could find at least three examples of people who say things that (without any investigation) appear to be nutty, despite evidence that some believers of man-made global warming espouse equally nutty things.  The truth or not of a theory and influence of a group will not be decided by analyzing the fringe extreme. He cannot find a single leader of the skeptic movement who espouses any of the conspiracies he claims are important. There are no blog posts among the “greatly involved” climate skeptics about Diana being murdered, HIV being manufactured nor moon-landings being faked.

Is Psychology a Science?

If the field of psychology wants to be taken seriously as a science, where are the scientific psychologists speaking out against this poor paper with highly unscientific conclusions?

Is UWA “excellent”?

If UWA wants to be taken seriously as “achieving international excellence”, where are the UWA staff members who hold higher standards? Which scientists at  UWA are prepared to speak up to say that Lewandowsky is not representative of the standards of their work?

The Bottom line:

This kind of unscientific poor standard work would not get attention or have any credibility if it were not funded by the Australian Government. According to his 28 page CV he claims to have been a part of $4.4m in grants.

Nice work if you can get it.

If we do not demand higher standards and turn off the tap filling this well of personal bias dressed as research, we’re letting good scientists down, we’re letting hard working tax-payers down, and we’re letting our children down.

See below for details of the funding…


DP0770666 Prof S Lewandowsky; Prof Dr K Oberauer

Keeping Memory Current: Updating and Discounting of Information

2007 : $ 126,600
2008 : $ 138,500
2009 : $ 142,000
2010 : $ 142,000
2011 : $ 145,000

Total: $694,100

APF Prof S Lewandowsky The University of Western Australia

This project is about understanding the human cognitive capacity to manage change. The need to manage change  is a common thread that permeates nearly all National Research Priorities and is a central issue in an information society. The applied component of the project will develop techniques to improve the capabilities of individuals and communities to rely on up-to-date knowledge during decision making. The project will also contribute to psychological science in numerous ways. Basic research in psychology is of particular national benefit because the available national research funding is commensurate with the requirements of world-class research in psychology. http://www.arc.gov.au/pdf/DP07/DP07_RFCD.pdf


The University of Western Australia

DP0879110 Prof S Lewandowsky; Dr G Gignac; Dr L Yang

Categorization and Working Memory: Bridging two Pillars of Cognition

2008: $ 58,000
2009: $ 60,000
2010: $ 62,000
2011: $ 64,000

Total: $244,000

The University of Western Australia

Categorization is a fundamental cognitive skill that underlies much expert behavior, including medical diagnosis. A given task often gives rise to widely divergent strategies across individuals, and flawed strategies have been implicated in prediction errors of experts (e.g., bush fire fighters). This project seeks to identify the underlying variables that determine an individual’s strategy acquisition by relating working memory performance to categorization. Working memory is a core cognitive construct that is quite well understood, but its relationship to category learning has so far remained unexplored. Being able to predict the development of categorization strategies can help maximize expert performance. www.arc.gov.au/pdf/DP08/DP08_RFCD.pdf


DP120103888 Lewandowsky, Prof Stephan; Little, Dr Daniel R; Griffiths, A/Prof Thomas; Sanborn, Asst Prof Adam

From fluid intelligence to crystallised expertise: an integrative Bayesian approach

2012 $300,000.00
2013 $240,000.00
2014 $225,000.00
Total $765,000.00

Primary FoR 1701 PSYCHOLOGY The University of Western Australia

Project Summary

Intelligence is correlated with learning but uncorrelated with most aspects of expertise. Why is this so? Why does the role of intelligence diminish as one becomes more expert at a task? This project examines a broad range of cognitive tasks to provide a concise mathematical description of how intelligence relates to expertise.


 Other selected grants:


DP0450232   Prof S Lewandowsky

Title:          Memory And Time

Total:   A$165,000

Category:    3801     -   PSYCHOLOGY

Administering Institution:    The University of Western Australia

Summary: What could be simpler than remembering a few items, such as the digits in a phone number, for a brief time in the right order? Notwithstanding its simplicity, this serial recall task is essential for sophisticated human abilities such as vocabulary acquisition. This project investigates whether chronological time is a causal variable in short-term memory, as some, but by no means all, theorists assume. Experiments will manipulate time between items at study and retrieval using novel techniques, and thus observe the effect of time on memory. Computational models of psychological time will be developed to better predict memory  performance.

  • Australian Research Council (Linkage Grant, with Federal Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency). Creating a climate for change: From cognition to consensus. (Ben Newell, Brett Hayes, Marilyn Brewer, Stephan Lewandowsky, Andy Pitman, Matthew England, Chris Mitchell), A$216,000 (plus matching contribution from DCCEE), 2012- 2014.
  • National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. What about me? Factors affecting individual adaptive coping capacity across different population groups. (Kerrie Unsworth, Stephan Lewandowsky, David Morrison, Carmen Lawrence, Sally Russell, Kelly Fielding, Chris Clegg), A$330,000, 2011-2013.


  • Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (Swiss National Sciencd Foundation). “Working memory: Modelling and experiments” (with Klaus Oberauer). CHF11,040, 2010. European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP). European Summer School “Computational and Mathematical Modelling of Cognition.” (with Klaus Oberauer and Simon Farrell). €20,000, 2010.
  • Australian Research Council (Linkage international grant). Time and updating of memory. (with Gordon D. A. Brown, Klaus. Oberauer, & Simon   Farrell). A$21,000, 2008-2010.

Awards and Honors:

  • Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award, Australian Research Council, 2012-2014. (Up to 70 “awards” each funding round Australia-wide selection criteria)
  • Faculty Teaching Award (Honours supervision), Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences, University of Western Australia, 2007.
  • Australian Professorial Fellowship, Australian Research Council, 2007-2011.

Research: The effects of time on memory; dynamic models of short-term and working memory; individual differences in categorization.

  • Degrees: B.A. Washington College, Chestertown, MD, U.S.A., 1980
  • M.A. University of Toronto, 1981
  • Ph.D. University of Toronto (Supervisor: Bennet Murdock), 1985


(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.

Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Western Australia
Klaus Oberauer, University of Zurich and University of Western Australia
Gilles Gignac, University of Western Australia (Assoc Prof)

Hat tip to Barry Woods, Foxgoose, Lionell, Graham, Geoff Chambers, Jaymez, Michael K, Geoff S and another reader from afar.

My posts on this topic:

PART I  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 here Lewandowsky hopes we meant “Conspiracy” but we mean  “Incompetence”

PART IV  Steve McIntyre finds Lewandowsky’s paper is a “landmark of junk science”

PART V Lewandowsky does “science” by taunts and attempted parody instead of answering questions

also UWA sponsors world wide junkets for poor research, inept smears: Oreskes

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