While Naomi Oreskes, Anderegg, Prall et al and John Cook et al tried to bolster the impression of an overwhelming consensus (and dismiss skeptics as less expert and less prominent) through the use of literature reviews, Professor Stefan Lewandowsky took a different tack in an effort to achieve the same goals. Lewandowsky tried to survey the readers of climate weblogs. However, many of the tactics he used are reminiscent of the work of Oreskes, Prall et all and Cook et al. In fact, Cook was instrumental in organizing the research Lewandowsky reported on.

In 2012 Lewandowsky et al had a paper published in the journal Psychological Science titled, “NASA Faked The Moon Landing–Therefore, (Climate) Science is a Hoax.” From the paper’s abstract: “We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.” Lewandowsky cited both Oreskes and Anderegg, Prall et al. He was already working with John Cook.


Jose Duarte wrote, “out of 1145 participants, only 10 believed the moon landing was a hoax (likely including fakes.) We’ll pause here to note that 10 in this context is essentially zero, and we couldn’t validly infer links between moon hoaxism and anything else from that number. But it’s worse – a majority of these 10 reject the idea that climate science is a hoax – 7 out of the 10. Only 3 participants out of 1145 endorsed the moon hoax and the climate science hoax.

Duarte continues, “Out of 1145 participants, only 16 reject the claim that HIV causes AIDS. Out of 176 free marketeers*, only 9 reject the HIV-AIDS link that is, 95% agreed that HIV causes AIDS. There were fake participants in the study that can be identified by their response patterns – those trivial 9 and 16 figures will drop when we delete the fakes.

Out of 1145 participants, only 11 reject the idea that smoking causes cancer. Out of 176 people who endorsed free markets, only 7 rejected the claim that smoking causes cancer. 96% of them agreed that smoking causes lung cancer. (They should’ve said “increases the risk of”, because some intellectual types will be sticklers on that, might struggle with their answers – see the footnote.)

They didn’t disclose this in the paper. They didn’t tell us. Nor did they clean the fakes from their data, fakes which end up driving some of the key results. They did the opposite – they claimed effects based on these numbers, in their headline, their abstract… Their effects were artifacts of improper statistical inferences, driven by variance between “agree” and “strongly agree” answers to those science items – the opposite of “rejection”.

Well, Lewandowsky et al didn’t tell the truth about their results. But as has been the case throughout this study of consensus wishful thinking, they didn’t tell the truth about their methodology either.

The point of the survey he fielded was to get the opinions of climate skeptics. As Steve McIntyre notes, “Although Lewandowsky’s professed interest was the study of “skeptics”, Lewandowsky’s first distribution of his survey was to eight of the most stridently anti-skeptic blogs: Lambert’s Deltoid, Tamino, Skeptical Science plus five blogs with little traffic: Bickmore, Hot Topic, Scott Mandia, Ill Considered, Trunity.” McIntyre wrote a number of posts detailing a variety of problems with Lewandowsky’s ‘science’. Click here to see them all

Lewandowsky did email the operators of 5 skeptic weblogs asking them to link to the survey. But none did. So all of the participants came from blogs that attack skeptics more or less continuously. This led to several cases where survey participants seemed to be imitating skeptics. However, their data was used as if it were real.

McIntyre again: “In addition to the ordinary problems of an online survey, Lewandowsky’s decision to distribute his survey via anti-skeptic blogs had other shortcomings. Whatever anonymity the survey might have had was tainted by the association of the survey with Lewandowsky at the Deltoid, Hot Topic and (perhaps) Skeptical Science. In addition, potential respondents had already read the feedback of previous survey takers.”

One honest consensus reader of the results was Tom Curtis, who posts on the Skeptical Science website run by John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli. Curtis wrote, ”

I have been looking through the survey results and noticed that 10 of the respondents have a significant probability of being produced by people attempting to scam the survey. I base this conclusion on their having reported absurdly low (<2) consensus percentages for at least one of the three categories.

An additional response (#861 on the spreadsheet) represents an almost perfect “warmist” caricature of a “skeptic”, scoring 1 for all global warming questions, and 4 for all free market and conspiracy theory questions. There may be wackos out there that believe every single conspiracy theory they have heard, but they are a vanishingly few in number, and are likely to appear in a survey with such a small sample size.

A second respondent (890) almost exactly mirrored respondent 861 except for giving a 3 for the Martin Luther King Jr assassination, and lower values for the scientific consensus questions. Again this response is almost certainly a scam. Combined, these respondents account for 2 of the strongly agree results in almost every conspiracy theory question; and the other potential scammers also have a noticable number of strong agreements to conspiracy theories.

For most conspiracy theory questions, “skeptics” only had two respondents that strongly agreed, the two scammed results. Given the low number of “skeptical” respondents overall; these two scammed responses significantly affect the results regarding conspiracy theory ideation. Indeed, given the dubious interpretation of weakly agreed responses (see previous post), this paper has no data worth interpreting with regard to conspiracy theory ideation.

It is my strong opinion that the paper should be have its publication delayed while undergoing a substantial rewrite. The rewrite should indicate explicitly why the responses regarding conspiracy theory ideation are in fact worthless, and concentrate solely on the result regarding free market beliefs (which has a strong enough a response to be salvageable). If this is not possible, it should simply be withdrawn.”

So they were wrong in their results and suspect in their methodology. What else could go wrong?

The online survey they used presented different questions to different respondents in different order. One of the conspiracy questions about Iraq was worded so that the U.S. Congress and practically every one who follows politics would end up being labeled a conspiracy theorist. Data was not published for people to look at what was done.

Lewandowsky would later write another paper called ‘Recursive Fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation, where he used provocative language about the first paper and called everyone who criticized both his language and his previous paper… conspiracy theorists. It was so bad that it had to be retracted. Lewandowsky then lied about the retraction, forcing the journal editor to issue a public statement saying that the paper was retracted because it revealed the names of the people it was labeling conspiracy theorists.

So we’ll tie all this up in my next post. Maybe everything that sinks below the level of credible research can converge, too.



15 responses to “Lewandowsky

  1. After 5 years of grad school in physics, I was hired as a quantitative analyst to assist social scientists working in a think tank. My primary job was to go over their statistics. They proved one thing.
    Social science is bunk.
    There is a reason why your professors hold you responsible for derivations, to make sure the formulas are not abused.
    If Lewandowsky had not published in a controversial area where he received a lot of scrutiny, he would have gotten away with it.

  2. I was working for NASA when Capricorn One came out. It’s about NASA faking the first manned flight to Mars. NASA leadership was appalled. Middle level researchers weren’t. When the movie came up, they smiled and told me stories.

  3. This sounds like it needs to be edited:

    ” There may be wackos out there that believe every single conspiracy theory they have heard, but they are a vanishingly few in number, and are likely to appear in a survey with such a small sample size.”

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  13. manicbeancounter

    Could I correct a technical detail? You state
    “Lewandowsky did email the operators of 5 skeptic weblogs asking them to link to the survey. ”
    My understanding is that he did not contact those blogs. Contact was made by his research assistant, Charles Hanich. Then, when folks like me criticized his paper, (for stuff like the stats you quote above) he deflected critcism by first sending people like Steve McIntyre on a wild goose chase, then decrying the use of pivot tables in analyzing the data that shows the
    Like a certain troll, lew never defends any of his comments, instead just doubling down with smear after smear against anyone who questions the climate mantras.

  14. Hiya manic,

    You are correct. I was writing in the sense that Lew had Charles send the emails, but of course that hid the identity from the blog owners.

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