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Three Frontiers editors resign in protest over Lewandowsky’s Recursive Fury retraction

And the PR stunts continue.

Once upon a time  “Editors Resigning!” sounded important. Today, not so much. There are apparently hundreds of editors of Frontiers. As far as I can tell, these are not resignations from paid jobs, but resignations from a somewhat self-appointed, voluntary chore. They’re also not about any scientific argument, and it’s not clear that any of these editors were actually involved in editing the paper in question.

The three editors are Ugo Bardi (energy and resources),  Björn Brembs (neurobiology of flies and snails), and allegedlyProfessor Colin Davis of the University of Bristol (who at least is an expert in Cognitive Science). Davis doesn’t appear to have made a public statement. The only record is Desmog. Bjorn Brembs intends to resign, but may not have actually done it.  Who knows? (More to the point, who cares?)

Ugo Bardi, Chief Specialty Editor of the Frontiers Journal is resigning over the debacle about Stephan Lewandowksy’s twice failed paper. Overall, it’s an excellent event, but he’s a year too late. If I were an Editor, I would have resigned on Feb 3 last year (because on Feb 2, the journal published a ethically dubious, one-sided paper with no scientific merit, little research, and which abused English). Though we can applaud Ugo anyway, given his judgement, his exit means Frontiers is probably a stronger journal.

After the recent events in the saga of the paper titled “Recursive Fury” by Lewandowsky et al., I am stating my disappointment by resigning from Chief Specialty Editor of the Frontiers journal

When a science paper is retracted the first and most important thing is whether it has scientific merit.

But not for Bardi:

It is not for me, here, to discuss the merits and demerits of this paper, nor the legal issues involved …

Having said he won’t discuss the science (which is hard to justify) he then tries to anyway. Note carefully the scientific merit Bardi attaches to this paper, and his evidence for reaching this conclusion. Remember this man is an Editor (or was) of a peer reviewed journal and he’s resigning, you’d think he would have looked very closely at this paper:

The paper reported the results of a survey that showed that the rejection of climate science was often accompanied by a similar mindset on other scientific areas.

But  Bardi seems to have resigned over the wrong paper. Recursive Fury doesn’t report the results of any survey. Instead it lists blog comments out of context, attaches derogatory labels to those comments (regardless of the truth or not of their comments). It analyzes them from the unscientific mindset of a religious adherent who thinks science is done by consensus rather than by observation.

Both friends and critics have pointed out this mistake to Bardi, but instead of simply fixing it, he’s dug in and flat out denied what is obvious to anyone who looks. Recursive Fury does not report a “survey”.

But Ugo knows the Lewandowsky paper has value — apparently because he personally has “seen it himself” on blogs. Golly!

So “Climate skeptics” were also found to reject the notion that AIDS is caused by the HIV virus and that smoking causes cancer. A result not at all surprising for those of us who follow the climate debate in detail.

Is there any more unscientific guide than conclusion-by-personal-prejudice? It’s not like he’s looked at the sample, or the statistics, nor even read the methods. We wonder if he has even read the paper.

We also note that Bardi is a member of The Club of Rome, and lectures about renewable energy, so it would be fair to ask whether he is an impartial editor in any publication about climate change.

To use Lewandosky’s own recursive lingo the persecuted victim (PV) feels the world is against them. Here’s Bardi:

It is becoming commonplace for scientists to receive personal attacks (including death threats) for having stated their position on the climate problem. This violent reaction often takes the shape of mailing campaigns directed to the institutions of the targeted scientists.

Where were those “common” death threats, or even one in this case? According to other editors of Frontiers, there were not even legal threats, let alone death threats. But it did receive  “well argued and cogent” complaints. How terrifying for the editors.

Who exactly are the bullies here?

Who is intimidating who? Is it the unpaid volunteers writing on blogs and pointing out scientific errors, or is it the professors backed by university teams of lawyers and PR agents with government funds who use their positions to publicly diagnose and allege the unpaid volunteers write words that are mentally deficient?

Let’s get it straight. Bardi supports the team that started the campaign of intimidation against scientists long ago by calling anyone with difficult questions a “denier”. I defy Bardi to define it in scientific terms, and to show it has any use other than as a form of character assassination.  Lewandowsky’s paper essentially took blog comments and reviews that he personally disagreed with and labeled those remarks (which even included an IPCC lead authors words) with psychopathological characteristics. What could be more intimidating, and unconducive to open science review than finding that even if you speak up about a real scientific flaw, you will be labeled publicly in a science journal as someone who “Espouses Conspiracy Theories”.  Who wants to be  “ideated”?

Respect? Yes, let’s try some

Bardi has an issue with respect for authors:

“However, my opinion is that, with their latest statement and their decision to retract the paper, Frontiers has shown no respect for authors nor for their own appointed referees and editors. But the main problem is that we have here another example of the climate of intimidation that is developing around the climate issue.

Now Bardi might be right that Frontiers showed little respect for Lewandowsky. Though it appears they tried to retract the paper in the kindest possible way, but perhaps did not explain their real reasons (it’s hard to say). But Lewandowsky showed no respect for Frontiers either. He and the other authors were happy for their reviewer to call the journal “spineless”. More importantly, and right from the outset, where was there any respect from the authors for the subjects of their research? (Just read any of Barry Woods comments on most of the links to this paper). Bardi is right that we need respect, but it begins with researchers who don’t mock, taunt, and name-call the people they are supposedly “experts” about.

Björn Brembs at least has read the paper, but isn’t aware of the background, probably has no idea that the previous paper (The Moon Landing Hoax) still surely ranks as one of the worst all-time papers ever published — an ad hom argument taken to its absurd extreme, rebadged as “science”. The title was based on only 10 anonymous internet responses garnered from sites which hate the supposed “target” group the paper is based on. The paper claimed 78,000 people may have seen the survey at a site where it was never hosted. It’s so bad, it’s hard to satirize. No wonder real scientists objected vociferously to the original paper. Lewandowsky’s response to their valid criticisms was to call their responses mentally deficient and publish it. This second paper “Recursive Fury” depended entirely on the value and strength of the first. It never stood a chance.

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