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Lewandowsky — A paper of questionable ethics, approved in a last minute switch

Prof Stephan Lewandowsky had to make an ethics committee application in order to survey anti-skeptics to “find out” whether skeptics are conspiracy mad nutters (as you would). Simon Turnill launched an FOI to ask for information and has received some  information.  Turnill wondered why the application seemed so unrelated to the survey. I pointed out that  I’d seen a different Lewandowsky paper that fitted the description in the application. Simon hunted and found Popular Consensus: Climate Change Set to Continue (where Lewandowsky shows people in the Hay St. Mall, in Perth, some “stock market” graphs and asks them to extrapolate the trend).

Lewandowsky appears to have obtained an ethics approval for this bland paper, and then put in a last minute request for a “slight modification” which was for an entirely different survey for a different purpose and an unrelated paper, and which, as it happens, uses an internet survey rather than a face to face one. But apart from that… it was nearly the same.

Worse, Turnill found that by the time Lewandowsky was finalizing the ethics application in August 2010, he’d already done that bland survey fully 7 months before, and the paper was almost finished. The submitted paper was received on Sept 7th 2010 (the day after he started sending emails to skeptics under the name of his assistant Charles Hanich). Turnill notes that Lewandowsky refers to “The Survey” in the future tense and as if there was only one survey.

The 40 new questions and all the other changes were approved by the Ethics Committee in less than 24 hours.  (This is the same ethics committee that apparently took days to decide whether there were privacy issues preventing Lewandowsky from publishing the names of the skeptic leaning blogs and emails which he had chosen to approach in the name of his ARC taxpayer funded research. Hmm. Could those bloggers be offended by being approached by UWA? Really? It was never a privacy issue, it was something that should have been in his published methods).

This is the same ethics team which approved him hiding his name from skeptics (but not from believers) — allegedly because I had written this post where I point out Lewandowsky uses name-calling and logical errors to stop people discussing evidence.

Steve McIntyre writes  that Lewandowsky justified withholding his name for fear that he would contaminate the results. “Nonetheless, Lewandowsky’s name was prominently displayed at some of the anti-skeptic blogs. Lewandowsky’s fears that the survey would be contaminated seem to have been justified.”

Simon has gone into details of the ethics of human research.

He notes that one of the duties of a researcher is to “ensure that respect for the participants is not compromised by the aims of the research”.

Simon Turnill wonders how much respect Lewandowsky can give:

“Does the research raise questions regarding “respect”? Given Prof Lewandowsky is on the record, well prior to the research being carried out, that he was of the opinion that climate scepticism was linked to far-fetched conspiracy theory ideation (see here), it could be argued that there was a substantial risk of humiliation or disrespectful treatment of participants, given that it may be argued that the intention of the research was to make that link – which in itself is objectively demeaning (either to the participants or a subset of the “wider community”). Even if it did not reach the threshold for “harm” could be regarded at least as a “discomfort”.

There is something creep-wrong about paying a scientist to study people he hates.

Ethically, the benefits of the research are supposed to outweigh the risks.

“What benefits did the research provide? Evidence that climate sceptics have a psychological inability to accept climate science, linked to an acceptance of wacky conspiracy theories? It would be easy to reach the conclusion that the purpose of the research was simply to confirm a belief already held and portray sceptics in a negative light, in order to make a political point.”

Simon Turnill makes some excellent points, and I recommend reading it – especially his thoughts on the ethical requirements in the second half of the post.  Please drop in and thank him…

Lew v McIntyre again?

For those who are interested, Lewandowsky has unwisely entered the Hockey Stick debate (just after he makes it onto Steve McIntyre’s radar). Steve McIntyre replies: Lewandowsky and “Hide the Decline”.

Stephan, apparently, has no idea what he is in for – defending Michael Mann and the “replications” in Inferential Statistics and Replications. My favorite part is how replicating the global temperature of the last thousand years is like testing gravity by dropping a glass… this is vintage Stephan: No matter how complicated the world is, there is a black and white answer, and his gift is to see it. He thinks the difference lies in the error bars.

But when the decline is hidden, it doesn’t really matter what the error bars were. There is no defending tricks that hide data.

The FOI application and related correspondence is copied on Australian Climate Madness – PDF.

Comments about the details of the ethics approval seem the most useful. Sorry I haven’t had time to compile the best responses of WUWT, ClimateAudit and Australian Climate Madness (part I and II). There are many sharp brains at work.


REFERENCE (for the record)

Lewandowsky, S. (2012) Popular Consensus: Climate Change Set to Continue, Psychological Science, April 2011 vol. 22 no. 4 460-463  [abstract]


Most domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions cause anthropogenic global warming (AGW), reflected in increased global temperatures during every decade since 1970. Notwithstanding, some public figures have claimed that warming stopped in 1998. In a large experiment (N = 200), participants extrapolated global climate data, presented graphically either as share prices or temperatures. Irrespective of attitudes towards AGW or presentation format, people judged the trend to be increasing, suggesting that presentation of climate data can counter claims that warming has \stopped.”

 Related post (and last word here):

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

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