UWA psychiatrist fails test of ethics … “lies and cheats”

Papers just released show that: Lewandowski proves himself a liar and a cheat.

From nigguraths, via greenie watch.

He knew that his work was unethical so deceived his university to get past its ethical restrictions.  Such dishonesty nullifies the work of any scientist.  Are his research findings lies too?  Lewandowski’s findings about what skeptics think were always dodgy on sampling grounds alone.  Now we have to ask if his oddly chosen interviewees even said what he claims they said.

The now-withdrawn Lewandowsky Fury paper (link) is possibly one of the egregious examples of ethically compromised research encountered. Delve into the paper, the first thing crossing one’s mind is: how did the university ethics committee approve this project? This was the study protocol – Lewandowsky’s associates would carry out real-time surveillance on people criticizing his paper, prod and provoke them, record their responses and perform ‘analysis’. How did they say yes?

Lewandowsky’s correspondence with University of Western Australia (UWA) officials has been released (link). Amidst a storm of emails on this previous work, he writes to the secretary of the ethics committee (10 Sep 2012) of his intention to start another project:

This is just to inform you of the fact that I will be writing a follow-up paper to the one that just caused this enormous stir. The follow-up paper will analyze the response to my first paper …

Lewandowsky states there will be no interaction with his subjects: none of the research “will involve experimentation, surveys, questionnaires or a direct approach of participants of any sort”

What would the research be? According to Lewandowsky, his team would “analyz[e] “Google trends” and other indicators of content that are already in the public domain (e.g. blog posts, newspapers, comments on blogs, that type of thing)”. The research would “basically just summarize and provide a timeline of the public’s response.”

The email is a remarkably misleading and limited description of the project he and his associates conducted.

The ethics office response is further divorced from reality. The approval was granted as a “follow-up” study to the ‘Moon’ paper. The ‘Moon Hoax’ paper was itself was approved under an application for “Understanding Statistical Trends”. As recounted here, “Understanding Statistical Trends” was a study where Lewandowsky’s associates showed a graph to shopping mall visitors and asked questions (link pdf). This application was modified to add the ‘Moon hoax’ questions on the day the original paper was accepted for publication. The same application was modified for the ‘Recursive Fury’ paper. Each modification introduced ethical considerations not present in the previous step. Nevertheless, three unrelated research projects were allowed to be stacked on to a single ethics approval by the university board. In this way, Lewandowsky was able to carry out covert observational activities on members of the general public, as they reacted to his own work, with no human research ethical oversight.

Lewandowsky pitches his study proposal as non-intrusive, observational and retrospective in design: there is “no human participation”, the “content is already in the public domain”, and “irrespective of whether we then summarize that activity”. What he implied was there was minimal concern for more elaborate safeguards and vetting usually put in place when working with human subjects.

Yet during the period of study, Lewandowsky was in direct conversation with his study subjects (even as he ostensibly observed them). On a posting spree, he wrote 9 articles at shapingtomorrowsworld.org between Sept 3 – 19, 2012. About half of these were written after he approached the ethics office on the 10th. All but two were written after he announced that he was already collecting data, to the university deputy vice chancellor on the 5th. Among individuals named in the paper as harboring conspiracist ideas, three posted detailed comments with multiple questions responding to these posts, on his website. The subjects wrote numerous posts at their own blogs on Lewandowsky’s actions in the same interval. The flow of comments, appearance and final content were influenced by the second author, John Cook. A team headed by Cook operated as moderators at shapingtomorrowsworld.org, deleting parts, or whole comments offered by the subjects in the same interval. The elicited comments and posts were harvested as data for the paper.

The study was thus not an examination of archived material on blogs. As the authors themselves describe, they recorded subject comments and blog-posts in “real-time”, responses occurring to events set in motion by themselves. It cannot be considered a observational study either as authors interacted with the purported subjects during the period of study.

In her reply, the ethics secretary directs Lewandowsky to the UWA Human Subjects research web page (link). The page contains a ‘risk assessment checklist’ to guide researchers to whether a planned study would need ethics approval. It has these questions:

Active concealment of information from participants and/or planned deception of participants

Will participants be quoted or be identifiable, either directly or indirectly, in reporting of the research?

Will data that can identify an individual (or be used to re-identify an individual) be obtained from databanks, databases, tissue banks or other similar data sources?

Might the research procedures cause participants psychological or emotional distress?

Does the research involve covert observation?

The answer is a ‘Yes’ to many of these questions.  ’Participants’ declared to be conspiratorial by Lewandowsky are directly identified by name in the paper. The element of covert observation is undeniable.

The possibility of ethical breaches with internet-based research are well-understood. Clare Madge (2007) observed ethically questionable research could come to be carried out “under the radar screens of ethics committees” simply owing to the ease and speed of internet-based research resulting in ‘shoddy cowboy research’ and proliferation of ethical misconduct. The study design and conduct of the Lewandowsky et al 2013 ‘Recursive Fury’ contains numerous ethical failures. Lewandowsky’s email characterized his work in terms which turned out to be their opposite. There was no formal application and there was no review and consequently the prospective,non-observational nature of his project went unscrutinized.


Lewandowski, of the notorious Lew Paper, is featured here, by Josh: Cult science – Josh 244

Steve McIntyre has a hilarious post about Lewandowsky and Mann drawing conclusions from of a sample size of zero. So I drew my own conclusions. 

Steve writes:

Mann rose to prominence by supposedly being able to detect “faint” signals using “advanced” statistical methods. Lewandowsky has taken this to a new level: using lew-statistics, lew-scientists can deduce properties of population with no members. Josh summarizes the zen of lew-statistics as follows:

There are lots of interesting posts on this: Steve’s at Climate Audit, Judy Curry, Matt Briggs, Warren Pearce, WUWT and related posts by Lucia and Ben Pile.

On a different topic but worth mentioning, if you want to donate to the Phillipine Red Cross then you can do so here. Click the dropdown which is named Supertyphoon Yolanda (HAIYAN) and click the amount. 5000 Philippine Pesos (PHP) is about £70. H/t Anthony Watts

Cartoons by Josh

About Tom Harley

Amateur ecologist and horticulturalist and CEO of Kimberley Environmental Horticulture Inc. (Tom Harley)
This entry was posted in Climate, comedy, media, science, weather and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to UWA psychiatrist fails test of ethics … “lies and cheats”

  1. Pingback: the search for the ‘missing heat’ … found | pindanpost

  2. Barry Woods says:

    You missed something even worse…

    John Cook and Michael Marriott were brought in to be researchers (and co-authors) on Fury, as independent to LOG12..

    Michael Marriott was actually directly interacting in the comments of Shaping Tomorrows World, (and on his own blog) goading and attacking people named in the paper (and in the dataset). which was totally against even the limited (as you describe) ethics approval/claim of ‘observe’

    he was posting comments at Shaping Tomorrows World by his blog name – Watchingthedeniers –

    two examples (of many):

    Watching the Deniers (co-author Michael Marriott) at 13:26 PM on 11 September, 2012

    “….Hope,I don’t test the patience of readers and the moderator, I feel as though the “sceptics” are struggling to absorb or even address the issue.”

    “…..But – I’ve asked Ben, Barry and others to comment on the conspiracy theories outlined by Evans and Monckton. I have very politely, and respectively, requested a simple yes/no answer: do you (Barry, Ben, Les) accept the arguments put forward, or reject them as too belonging to the fringe.

    Or, if you reject such strong epistemological dichotomies, explain your views.

    Otherwise if very much looks like you can’t, or refuse. One may imply a form of denial from such refusal to discuss evidence.” (watchingthedeniers) author Michael Marriott


    Watching the Deniers (co-author Michael Marriott at 16:01 PM on 11 September, 2012

    “Geoff, care to comment on the Evans/Monckton statements?

    I’ve not called you any of the above. It is a polite request, or will you refuse to review the evidence? – (watchingthedeniers- Michael Mariott)

    Geoff was actually named in the paper itself (and the Barry, is me – I’m in the dataset):

    This is probably one of the reasons Frontiers retracted Fury (Geoff Chambers also commented that, Marriott found the time during the research period to write 12 blog posts, defending Lew’s LOG12 paper and attacking it’s critics..

    during this time (and before and after) Marriott was also writing blog posts attacking people named in the paper (Watts, Mcintyre, Nova ) and the dataset (myself)..

    Marriott was publicly calling me and Antony Watts, Deniers, disinformers, and our writings as verified Bullshit, and that we suffered from Dunning Kruger.. as he was researching Fury.

    Marriot has no qualification for any research here (works in an It role for a law firm I believe) and had purely fake affiliation in the paper – Climate Reality Research – a vanity he mentions on his blog.

    I listed a number of his interactions, in the comments of an article by Frontiers founder Prof henry Markram -about the Fury paper

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