Flushed away
Mar 20, 2014
Bishop Hill in Climate: Sceptics, Journals

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we learn that the Lew Paper - the 'Recursive Fury' one, about reactions to the bonkers conspiracy theorists one - has been retracted, or is about to be.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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