Transparency in Science Over-rated: Stephan Lewandowsky

All science is undermined by the actions of those few scientists that engage in research fraud. This has led to a broad movement to increase transparency in science, with calls for speedier archiving of data and insuring scientists respond to requests for data, code and information needed to replicate their research.

Celebrated cases of outright fraud lead off with the story of Andrew Wakefield, who claimed to have shown a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. There was no demonstrable link. Wakefield committed scientific fraud. There are many more cases that have made headlines (click here and scroll down) and doubtless more that have not yet come to light.

However, Social Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky thinks things have gone far enough and that scientists should be less transparent. His paper, “Research integrity: Don’t let transparency damage science” has just been published in Nature. I learned of this via And Then There’s Physics,

He writes, “Endless information requests, complaints to researchers’ universities, online harassment, distortion of scientific findings and even threats of violence: these were all recurring experiences shared by researchers from a broad range of disciplines at a Royal Society-sponsored meeting last year that we organized to explore this topic.”

Lewandowsky offers ‘Ten Red Flag areas that can help to differentiate healthy debate, problematic research practices and campaigns that masquerade as scientific inquiry.” I believe Brad Keyes might profit from examining this in detail.

What prompts Lewandowsky’s work? Well, it may stem from him being accused of being a poster child for bad science. I am one of his accusers, in case you have any doubt.

A little background:

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 2,047 retractions of biomedical and life-sciences articles and found that just 21.3 percent stemmed from straightforward error, while 67.4 percent resulted from misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4 percent) and plagiarism (9.8 percent).

Perhaps hardest hit in recent times is the broad field of social science. “The past several years have been bruising ones for the credibility of the social sciences. A star social psychologist was caught fabricating data, leading to more than 50 retracted papers. A top journal published a studysupporting the existence of ESP that was widely criticized. The journal Science pulled a political science paper on the effect of gay canvassers on voters’ behavior because of concerns about faked data.

Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction.”

One scientist whose work has been offered as an example of faulty research practice is social psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky. Psychologist Lee Jussim recently gave a talk at Sydney University on the subject and singled out Lewandowsky for providing misleading results.

“Jussim’s talk began with one of the most egregious examples of bias in recent years. He drew the audience’s attention to the paper: “NASA faked the moon landing – therefore (climate) science is a hoax.” The study was led by Stephan Lewandowsky, and published in Psychological Science in 2013. The paper argued that those who believed that the moon landing was a hoax also believed that climate science was a fraud. The abstract stated:

We…show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings above and beyond commitment to laissez-faire free markets. This provides confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science.

After describing the study and reading the abstract, Jussim paused. Something big was coming.

“But out of 1145 participants, only ten agreed that the moon landing was a hoax!” he said. “Of the study’s participants, 97.8% who thought that climate science was a hoax, did not think that the moon landing also a hoax.”

His fellow psychologists shifted in their seats. Jussim pointed out that the level of obfuscation the authors went to, in order to disguise their actual data, was intense. Statistical techniques appeared to have been chosen that would hide the study’s true results. And it appeared that no peer reviewers, or journal editors, took the time, or went to the effort of scrutinizing the study in a way that was sufficient to identify the bold misrepresentations.”

I have frequently described Lewandowsky as a charlatan at this blog and I see no reason to change my views. See here, here  and here. His work on perceptions of climate science is worse than flawed–it can only be explained by bad intent.

That he would now call for being shielded from his critics is perhaps natural. It should not, however, be accepted. Or even tolerated.


15 responses to “Transparency in Science Over-rated: Stephan Lewandowsky

  1. When you’re busy “saving the planet”, using as your foundation work done by lots of other people also “saving the planet”, it’s not about being honest and effective, only effectiveness will do.

    The only surprising thing in this article is that someone was prepared to stand up and call Lewandowski out on it. Didn’t this guy get the “saving the planet” memo?

  2. The unflushable Lew’s latest comment should be called Don’t Let Questions Stifle Inquiry, Don’t let Disclosure Get In The Way Of Discovery or Bad Faith Attacks On Bad Science: Why Should I Make My Data Available To You When Your Aim is to Try and Find Something Wrong With It?

    I can’t take credit for this, but a commenter whose name I’ve forgotten once pointed out that Stephan Lewandowsky is an anagram of What Lysenko Spawned.

    Maybe The Scientists are right all along. Nature really does have a fever, as long as we’re using a capital N.

    Paul Matthews has also jumped on the travesty here .

    Where do you get your awesome artwork, Tom?


  3. Oops, the link to Paul Matthews’ article is this.


    who didn’t get the memo? Lee Jussim or Tom?

  4. Did you notice how Nature has decayed into a political rag?

  5. While access to scientists’ data so that the statistics can be checked is important, it doesn’t address the other issue of how they acquire the data in the first place. A school kid, furnished with the circumstances could work out that the way Dr Lew got his data for the Moon Hoax paper was gobsmakingly bad. It was like going to a Nazi forum to ask about Jewish opinions and using the excuse that sometimes Jews post there. The source for his second paper Recursive Fury was data he fished for, by baiting sceptics and was so blatently bad it was withdrawn. There are clear guidelines how surveys are supposed to be carried out and he must have broken most of them.

    The fundamental problem is that peer and journals are no way to judge scence. What’s more the public know it. The derision that meets each medical study that pops up in the news papers demonstrates it. The proliferation of journals is evidence that there is more science but not evidence that there is good science.

    So sure, Dr Lew can argue that scientists’ time is wasted on data transparency but surely all of it is wasted doing science nobody can trust in.

  6. Yet Lewandowsky keeps his reputation, keeps receiving accolades. And keeps getting anything he writes published.

  7. So what you are saying is that the Royal Society still can’t get enough of Stephan Lewandowsky.

  8. Lew’s peers (Dan Kahan, Jonathan Haidt, …) ought to be confronted with questions about his shenanigans.

  9. “even the large gas planets exhibit a temperature gradient close to -g/cp”


    “and yet have no water vapor or carbon dioxide.”

    But they have lots of other things that absorb, in the visible as well as the IR:

    Another planet that proves this theory wrong is Earth. Here -g/cp (called the dry adiabatic lapse rate) is 9.8 K/km, but the average observed lapse rate in the troposphere is about 6.5 K/km. And in the stratosphere and the oceans (where the same physics should apply), the lapse rate is negative.

    So it seems we have here a theory that is always wrong. Makes a stopped watch seem reliable.

  10. Lewandowsky is a truly interesting player in this.

  11. Pingback: Nature on Research Integrity? | Climate Scepticism

  12. Tom, your blogger of the year came up with another good one, in response to me commenting that Lewandowsky seemed surprised at the strong reaction to his piece:

    “Paul, yeah, it seems climate psychologists are even worse than climate scientists at prediction.

    They’re past masters at projection though.”

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