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Flushed away

Via Ben Pile we learn that the Lew Paper - the 'Recursive Fury' one, about reactions to the bonkers conspiracy theorists one - has been retracted, or is about to be. It seems that a Dana Nuccitelli post went up at Skeptical Science announcing the paper's end an hour or so ago. The post has now been removed from public view, although Google's cache enables us to see it in all its glory.

...nobody likes being called a conspiracy theorist, and thus climate contrarians really didn't appreciate Recursive Fury.  Very soon after its publication, the journal Frontiers was receiving letters from contrarians threatening libel lawsuits.  In late March 2013, the journal decided to "provisionally remove the link to the article while these issues are investigated."  The paper was in limbo for nearly a full year until Frontiers finally caved to these threats.

In its investigation, the journal found no academic or ethical problems with Recursive Fury.  However, the fear of being sued by contrarians for libel remained.  The University of Western Australia (UWA: Lewandowsky's university when Recursive Fury was published – he later moved to the University of Bristol) also investigated the matter and found no academic, ethical, or legal problems with the paper.  In fact, UWA is so confident in the validity of the paper that they're hosting it on their own servers.

After nearly a year of discussions between the journal, the paper authors, and lawyers on both sides, Frontiers made it clear that they were unwilling to take the risk of publishing the paper and being open to potential frivolous lawsuits.  Both sides have finally agreed to retract Recursive Fury.

It's unfortunate that the Frontiers editors were unwilling to stand behind a study that they admitted was sound from an academic and ethical standpoint, especially since UWA concluded the paper would withstand a legal assault.  Nobody wants to get caught up in a lawsuit, but by caving in here, Frontiers has undoubtedly emboldened climate contrarians to use this tactic again in the future to suppress inconvenient research.  Academics also can't be confident that the Frontiers staff will stand behind them if they publish research in the journal and are subjected to similar frivolous attacks.  Frontiers may very well be worse off having lost the confidence of the academic community than if they had called the bluffs of the contrarians threatening frivolous lawsuits.

Hopefully editors of other climate-related journals will learn from this debacle and refuse to let climate contrarians bully them into suppressing valid but inconvenient research.

The "threat of libel" story is very strange, given that to the best of my knowledge nobody has threatened a libel suit and also, as Ben Pile notes, because a notice at the top of the online version of the paper notes that US Courts have ruled that foreign libel rulings are unenforceable in the USA.

Strangely though, the original paper can still be seen on view at the website of the journal involved, Frontiers in Psychology.

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Reader Comments (101)

The song has ended but the melody lingers on.

Mar 20, 2014 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Why can't these people ever tell the truth? The paper is junk. The excuse is a lie.

Mar 20, 2014 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterCoalsoffire

That's melody?

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:03 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

The link to the paper at Shaping Tomorfow's World is broken.

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDGH

>>In its investigation, the journal found no academic or ethical problems

These 'investigations' seem to tell us much more about the investigators than those investigated.

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterGBDixon

If its such a good, ground-breaking, well-sourced paper and if its methods and conclusions have been investigated by esteemed academic institutions that have found no problem with it, if its claims are eminently true and defensible, why wouldn't some fine, upstanding journal be eager to publish it?


Mar 20, 2014 at 8:18 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Reading that extract from SkS(?) I am reminded of a wonderful late 1970s political sketch by Bernard Levin in the Times. He wrote a peon of praise to the then Labour Government of Callaghan et al. At the end of the piece there was an 'Editor's note' that said: (iirc) 'Due to a compositor's error and the lack of characters [hot lead compositing] the word 'not' has inadvertently been left out of this article.'

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

For what it's worth, I believe I remember one person suggesting they might pursue such a suit. However, Frontiers decided to remove a quote attributed to that person because of it. After having done so,* they republished the paper. With the person no longer quoted in the paper, he clearly couldn't have sued. That means he can't be what they're referring to.

*The person was Foxgoose. The quote of his was supposed to be removed at the same time as Jeff Id's. Frontiers screwed up though. When they republished the paper, they published it in an HTML and a PDF version. Only one of those versions had Foxgoose's quote removed.

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrandon Shollenberger

The "threat of libel" story is very strange, given that to the best of my knowledge nobody has threatened a libel suit and also, as Ben Pile notes, because a notice at the top of the online version of the paper notes that US Courts have ruled that foreign libel rulings are unenforceable in the USA.

Yes sounds like a crock. I am certain it isn't Jeff ID as he succeeded in getting a correction of a what he considered a libel in Recursive and then expressed his satisfaction with the journal editors. However I think it is worth visiting the history of how Lewandowsky seem to try to repeat a similar claim about Jeff Id, and had to correct.

In the first Moon paper here:

Jeff Id on September 27, 2012
Lewandowsky to Remove All Blog Based References

And when Lewandowsky included the second putative libelous claim about Jeff Condon again in the Recursive paper, shortly before it disappeared:

Jeff Id on February 6, 2013
Lewandowsky – Strike Two

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:21 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Would the findings of these "investigations" be subject to FOI?

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveJR


"He wrote a peon of praise to the then Labour Government"

I think you mean "paean". A "peon" is a Mexican peasant farmer.

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterAsmilwho

Asmilwho: Thank you for taking the time correcting spellcheck - but not me! I wrote 'paean' because I'm and educated fellow. spellcheck insisted on changing it to peon. I should have rechecked it and writ it all again....

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

You've got to respect warmists. In any team there's always somebody (like me) who's not very good at the sport or can't hold a tune in a bucket or just has two left feet. Any normal team would try to lose the poor member by playing them in a quiet part of the field or on the back row of the choir. Not for warmists. No! They like to play their losers front and centre. It doesn't matter how many own goals they score, warmists refuse to leave their idiots on the bench. Respect their equal opportunities policy if not their will to win.

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

No. Frontiers is private, for-profit company in Switzerland. The standard contract between publisher and editor is that the latter is retained by the former. In other words, you can FOIA my research (because I teach at a UK university) but you can't FOIA my editing (because I do that on behalf of a Netherlands company).

Mar 20, 2014 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

This post surely lays to rest any doubts about the integrity of the SS mob.

Mar 20, 2014 at 9:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

The threat of libel blah blah blah is now inserted at the top of the paper hosted at UWA...

Pal review persists despite peer review retraction.

Mar 20, 2014 at 9:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterDGH

Just noticed that Ben Pile found that language in the UWA link earlier this afternoon.

Browsing on an IPad in tropical sun with a Corona in hand has me a few steps behind.

Mar 20, 2014 at 9:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterDGH

Nuccitelli is *such* a lightweight. Nothing behind the curtain. Ignore.

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerryM

Someone who is a resident of Australia should try filing an FOI request (or the like) with the UWA for all material pertaining to their investigation of Recursive Fury.

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrandon Shollenberger

Teapots and kettles at best. Just outright lies at the worst, at least SkS is consistent.

Who bullied the editors of the journal that published the Spencer paper etc etc.

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper

kim - more like "the poop has been scooped but the odor lingers on"

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

There were several letters of complaint to FrontiersIn, including (I think) from all four of us who were mentioned by name in the article itself. I certainly didn't threaten legal action, and I don't think McIntyre Watts or Jo Nova did either. It would be interesting to have confirmation of that. The basis for Nuccitelli's article is therefore entirely false, and he must know this.
What several of us, including McIntyre and Barry Woods and me, did complain about was Lewandowsky and Cook deliberately lying in the original Moon Hoax paper, and repeating the lie in the Recursive Fury one. Since Lewandowsky and Cook must have seen all the letters of complaint as part of FrontiersIn's “investigation” procedure, they must know that Nuccitelli is lying. It will be interesting to read their reactions.

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:43 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

geoffchambers - I expect no complaint as to Nuccitelli's remarks from the Cook/Lewandowsky Axis of Incompetence. It feeds the conspiracy-theorist streak, and it's far less damaging to their reputation among the believers than "we lied and got caught".

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

Is it a libel to falsely accuse someone of accusing you of libel?

Oh my! Warmists certainly know how to tie the truth in knots. If they have this much trouble with words it explains why they find maths and stats so hard.

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

It's hard to see how Lewandowsky can avoid mentioning the withdrawal of this paper, for example at the Bristol Festival of Ideas in June, where he is due to talk about the Moon Hoax paper. See:
My letter of complaint to FrontiersIn pointed out numerous errors of quotation and attribution of quotes in the “discourse analysis” carried out by Cook and Marriott, plus a string of non-sequiturs in the background and discussion part of the paper. Either FrontiersIn are lying when they say they could find nothing wrong with the paper, or they're lying when they said they carefully considered our complaints. I shall be writing to their chief editor, who is a prominent American professor of psychology, to ask which it is.
The “Moon Hoax” paper falsely claims that the survey on which it was based was publicised at SkepticalScience, and the” Recursive Fury paper had a study of the readership of SkepticalScience as part of its supporting literature. Lewandowsky lied about this in private emails to Barry Woods, and John Cook repeated the lie in private emails to me. The falsity of their claim was confirmed in emails between the two of them by Simon Turnill as a result of a FOI request. Lewandowsky and Cook have never answered the accusations of lying made frequently by Barry Woods and me on numerous blog threads, and by Steve McIntyre rather more prominently at Climate Audit.
Any comment they make about the withdrawal of Recursive Fury which fails to mention the substantive criticisms made in our complaints, or our accusation of lying, can only be a further example of their mendacity.

Mar 20, 2014 at 11:19 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Firstly, this is enormous news. Will wait for final confirmation.

As far as the legal issue is concerned: the thinking would have been different had Frontiers decided to publish the paper in the end. This would have pushed the complainants on to the next and what then would have been the only option left. No single individual might have preferred the legal option but if the paper was published, they would have been staring at it. This was the decision in front of the journal, in inverse. I am decidedly pleased the journal did not play such games of brinkmanship.

University of Western Australia did not obtain let alone approve a institutional review application for Lewandowsky's project. They have no grounds to declare they looked into their process and found nothing wrong. It was Simon Turnhill's FOI turned up emails and documents that, only quite recently, demonstrated how Lewandowsky had tacked on the Fury project onto the Moon project's ethics approval. How can they approve what they never considered?!

Mar 20, 2014 at 11:42 PM | Registered Commentershub

John Cook just tweeted a fundraising appeal for the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. That got me wondering, if the paper is libelous...

1. What liability do the authors have for this article that has (apparently) been retracted by the publisher?
2. Does the combination of John Cook's involvement with the paper and the announcement of the retraction with its defense of the paper create any liability for SKS ?
2. Could one sue the authors without suing UWA?
3. Now that Dr. Lew in UK wouldn't that have to be the case for him? If somebody in the UK felt that Dr. Lew's paper libeled them, wouldn't they just file suit against him?

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterDGH

At the UWA link there is no mention of the UWA investigating the academic or ethical merit of the paper as claimed by Nuccitelli, only a reference to the publisher having done so. The UWA simply says that it views the risks of hosting the paper differently than does the publisher and reaffirms its commitment to academic freedom.

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud


Either FrontiersIn are lying when they say they could find nothing wrong with the paper, or they're lying when they said they carefully considered our complaints.

If are you referring to the header shown on the UWA site then I think, at the moment, you may be being too hard on Frontiers:

Worth reprinting it here:

The United States Congress passed a law in 2010 that recognized the adverse impact of foreign libel laws on the "ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work" (PUBLIC LAW 111-223). This law made judgments under English libel laws unenforceable in the United States.
This article was published on 18 March 2013 as Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Oberauer, K., & Marriott, M. (2013). Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation. Frontiers of Psychology, 4 (73).doi:10.3389/fpsyg. 2013.00073.
The article attracted nearly 30,000 abstract views and 10,000 full-text views. It also attracted a number of complaints which were investigated by the publisher. The investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context was insufficiently clear for Frontiers to retract the published article. The retraction statement can be found here:
The article is now hosted on a website of the University of Western Australia, which has come to a different assessment of the risk posed by this article and reaffirms its commitment to academic freedom. Further details about the history of this article and continued attempts to suppress inconvenient science can be found at

That reads to me as if the UWA is trying to defend itself there, the whole schtick about "continued attempts to suppress inconvenient science" seems more like the heightened rhetoric that you would expect from Lewandowsky and SkS not a serious journal.

Looks to me that UWA are speaking on the publishers behalf and playing a bit fast and loose with the claims about the extent of what they investigated and what they found exactly.

The link offered above to Frontiers 'retraction statement' is stale so it looks like, as hinted by the SkS "leaked" page, there is an embargo for 22th March for the final statement from the publishers. I'm betting that the Frontiers retraction statement will be more business like and less whiny. ;)

If the Frontiers retraction statement is less flattering to the victim status we seem to seeing from UWA and SKS then that might explain these rushed out preemptive statements. Reminds me of The End Of An Era - Smashie and Nicey racing to the studio after hearing they've been fired to announced "We resigned!" :)

EDIT; Correction, just reread the cached SkS article, the embargo they say is for the 20th March so that means the stale link at Frontiers is a bit of a mystery. May be about to change at midnight Switzerland time?

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:20 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

To avoid any confusion for readers new to this topic, the UWA referred to here is the University of Western Australia.

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:17 AM DGH

The fund raising is probably more about Mann. If there's one thing we know isn't a lie, it's that he is involved in a legal suit or four.

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Smashie and Nicey racing to the studio after hearing they've been fired to announced "We resigned!" :)

That's what it smells like to me.

Lewandowsky would have wanted the paper to regain "published" status. The journal refused to relent, so Lew turned to his university, who refused to carry it without making clear the circumstances under which it has come to host the document. Why would anyone hosting a retracted paper headline it with irrelevant material otherwise? The header, as it stands, is purely superficial fluff.

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:37 AM | Registered Commentershub

I'm glad to see the nonsense go. Of course the journal didn't find anything wrong with itself. If it did find wrongdoing, the conclusion would be discoverable and the potential lawsuit would be automatically lost.

People shouldn't be able to publish flat lies as "science", they should be at least confined to the realm of exaggeration.

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeff Id

I'm not entirely sure why anyone would give the slightest credence to Nuccitelli's [now disappeared] narrative of the purported reasons behind Frontiers alleged (and much delayed) disposition of Lew's Recursive Fury débacle.

Considering his past performances, it seems to me that it is far more likely that Nuccitelli has taken a page out of Misrepresentation Mann's Book of Misleading Pleadings - which in turn, as I have noted elsewhere, bear a remarkable resemblance to the well-documented tactics of faux historian, David <I see you, I sue you> Irving.

To my mind, if Frontiers places any value on its own reputation as a reliable journal, then - assuming that the Principals have principles which include a commitment to truth in publishing - they would have no choice but to find on the facts that Lew's Fury is full of recursive holes and is not deserving of publication.

Certainly, Lewandowsky, Mann and Nuccitelli have demonstrated on many occasions that they are equally capable of mastering and emulating Irving's "add a word here, change a word there" mode of "doing history".

This being the case, I'm leaning towards the conclusion (particularly in light of the now "disappeared" narrative post) that Nuccitelli (and friends?!) had simply cooked up a batch of Mannian Spinetti™ which (not unlike over-cooked spaghetti) was never going to withstand the good, old-fashioned "stick to the wall" test.

Mar 21, 2014 at 12:48 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Another thinly veiled threat from the 9x% team to journal editors that they can make or break you if you step out off line.


Mar 21, 2014 at 12:56 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

Academic Freedom is not a License to Lie.

Mar 21, 2014 at 1:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

May be about to change at midnight Switzerland time?

Oh, BTW I suffer from a debilitating condition which has the effect of making me not know which way the Earth turns.

Doh! Been 21st of March for a couple of hours in the land of cuckoo clocks and that link is still stale so we are only left with the information about a retraction from UWA and SkS.

The journal is obliged to say something isn't it? Think I'll check out other retractions at Frontiers to see what the form is.

Mar 21, 2014 at 1:06 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

The Lewandowsky article made a variety of defamatory and untrue allegations against me with malice. I accordingly sent a strongly worded and detailed letter to the journal formally requesting that they withdraw the allegations and retract the article. The letter did not specifically "threaten to sue" in those words but was expressed in legal terms. It was my hope that the journal would recognize the many defects of the Lewandowsky article and behave responsibly, as they eventually did.

I urge Andrew and readers not to take the position that the journal's decision to regard themselves having potential legal liability as "very strange". Better to commend the journal for their belated decision to do the right thing by retracting the article.

Mar 21, 2014 at 1:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

BTW the Fury article was no longer at the UWA link cited in an earlier comment when I looked.

Mar 21, 2014 at 1:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

I commend the Journal in that they reacted correctly by withdrawing the offending article that maliciously attacked the integrity of Steve McIntyre with false allegations of impropriety.
I deplore that the continuation of similar attacks have been employed by a Mr Nuccitelli, to besmirch and denigrate the character of Mr McIntyre who simply pointed out the weaknesses in Dr Lewandowsky's studies.
I assume that, on careful consideration, Mr Nuccitell will be happy to unreservedly withdraw his ill-considered and, probably, over-hasty remarks.

Mar 21, 2014 at 1:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Nuccitelli was quoted as follows "The retraction statement can be found here:"

WHen I checked just now, the link did NOT contain a retraction statement. Perhaps a statement has been distributed to the Lew coauthors, but no retraction statement was at the journal link.

Mar 21, 2014 at 1:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

There will be those who will attempt to morally equate Steve McIntryre's response to the Lew paper with Mann's actions against Patrick Michaels and Mark Steyn et al. Afterall, the implication is that he threatened to sue, correct?

The situations are entirely different. A scientific publication has a much higher standard of accuracy, precision and objectivity to meet than the daily newspapers, journals and blogs. Much higher. It's been clear from the beginning that Lewandowski abused science and tried to use a scientific journal to defame individuals with whom he disagreed. The same cannot be said of Patrick Michaels or Steyn et al.

When McIntyre says an article "made a variety of defamatory and untrue allegations against me with malice," history tells us that he's speaking the truth. Frontiers obviously came to the same conclusion.

Some nasty things have been said about Mann on the internet and in periodicals. The veracity of those statements is certainly subject to challenge, but it's also true that similar or worse things have been said about Steve McIntyre in the same kind of venues. The difference is that Steve McIntyre has not filed libel suits in two countries. Michael Mann has.

Mar 21, 2014 at 2:53 AM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

I can feel a Climate Audit post coming up. Reminding us again of the sequence of events and what a sorry crock of shite this leading edge, climate science paper was.

Mar 21, 2014 at 2:59 AM | Registered CommenterGrantB

GB, it's already written, but he sent it over the Frontier. Pray for repatriation.

Mar 21, 2014 at 4:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Mar 21, 2014 at 1:26 AM | Steve McIntyre

The letter did not specifically "threaten to sue" in those words but was expressed in legal terms. It was my hope that the journal would recognize the many defects of the Lewandowsky article and behave responsibly, as they eventually did.

I urge Andrew and readers not to take the position that the journal's decision to regard themselves having potential legal liability as "very strange". Better to commend the journal for their belated decision to do the right thing by retracting the article.

Steve, has the journal shown you the courtesy of communicating directly with you regarding their belated decision to do the right thing? If so, could you share with us their actual words?

All we have at this point are a number of "now you see 'em, now you don't" claims and links from Nuccitelli. His depictions and/or descriptions - not unlike those we have seen from Mann, Cook and Lewandowsky - often lack any resemblance to reality.

Consequently, notwithstanding what would appear to be the very recent disappearances of Lew's Fury fictions paper (including the copy that was supposedly being housed at UWA, prefaced by a rather Lew-serving and illogical "explanation"), I for one would be far more comfortable commending the journal for what their retraction statement actually says, rather than Nuccitelli's aborted narrative which struck me as being somewhat liberally laced with Mannian Spinitelli™.

Not to mention the rather curious persistence of the abstract - still prefaced by a paragraph which includes, "The article has not been retracted or withdrawn" - rather than any notice/statement of final disposition from Frontiers [at least as of the time of this comment].

Mar 21, 2014 at 5:06 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

GrantB: I don't think he needs a post on this to explain it. He's dealt with Lewandowski's work in several posts including this one:

Lewandowski is a dead horse. I'm hoping Steve continues to demolish Mann's case against Steyn et al.

Mar 21, 2014 at 5:16 AM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

theduke: In any sane world Lewandowsky (Oreskes, Torcello, and the rest of the pseudoscientific hangers-on) would have about as much chance of being published in a professional journal of scientific pretense as I have of ending up underneath Kate Upton in the vomit comet.

Whatever one can say about the rest of the rest of the 'climate science' universe, these yapping hyenas are the worst of the worst, they make up in noise what they lack in relevance.

Mar 21, 2014 at 5:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

The Cognitive Science Lab's publications tab has it listed and a link. Pressing on the link results in the message: 404 - File or directory not found. I wonder if Lewandowsky appended the explanation blurb to the front of the paper but that the UWA's legal team disagreed with his views on the risks of publishing the paper and made him take it down.

It is still listed in the publications as having been published in Frontiers of Psychology.

Mar 21, 2014 at 5:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

Sadly Lewandowsky is still bringing his 'special skills ' to Bristol Uni which for some reason thought it was a good idea to take him on , still on the bright side can you image how much rubbish his students can get away in working to his 'standard , so at least a easy life for them.

Mar 21, 2014 at 7:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

Could someone explain to me how a paper that doesn't name anyone can be sued for libel? Sorely the defendant could simply say they weren't referring to the person prosecuting? Perhaps Nutty could explain where in law it's possibly to libel an unnamed person?

Mar 21, 2014 at 8:11 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

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