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« Virginian decision | Main | Climate Control in the Scottish Express »
Wednesday
Apr162014

The opinions of experts

Stephan Lewandowsky has launched the next round of the Recursive Fury saga, quoting an excerpt from the report of the expert panel that Frontiers commissioned to look into the ethical and legal issues surrounding the paper. The report says that there are divided opinions in the field as to whether analysing blog comments for a scientific paper would require informed consent, but seems to end up saying that the Fury authors' use of such comments was probably kosher.

I think I probably agree with this. I can't really see any objection to studying public blog comments. But I'm not sure that this doesn't miss the key objection to the Fury paper, namely that the authors published what amounted to diagnoses of the (alleged) psychological pathologies of identifiable individuals without their consent. I can see no way in which this could ever be acceptable practice for a reputable journal.

 

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Reader Comments (71)

All these people get paid for doing this stuff?

Apr 16, 2014 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterSC

"the authors published what amounted to diagnoses of the (alleged) psychological pathologies of identifiable individuals without their consent. I can see no way in which this could ever be acceptable practice for a reputable journal."

or indeed, for any academic working in the field

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterShotover

the key issue, was that the researchers hated the particpanst, and had a direct vested interest in attacking them

the ethics approval (such that it was) said - observe, no direct participation of any sort..

yet, Cook and Marriott were directly interacting with Geoff Chambers myself and others named in the paper. (in Marriott's case) in a hostile manner, and our comments were being snipped and deleted. This was at Lewandowsky and JohnCook's website.. during the research period. they twere deceiving us by doing this.. ie a insanely high risk ethcs breach.

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

SC on Apr 16, 2014 at 8:53 AM
"All these people get paid for doing this stuff?"

And, I expect, with taxpayers' money!

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:08 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

..and the diagnoses were based on quotes that were truncated, amalgamated, attributed to the wrong person, and misinterpreted. As I've pointed out endlessly, in hisTable 3, which attributes first mentions of ten different hypotheses to five different individuals, every single attribution is wrong.

The rest is just a smokescreen to hide the malice and incompetence of Lewandowsky and his team.

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:10 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Henry Markram - Editor in Chief- Frontiers - is a slightly bigger hitter than Lewandowsky.... (budget wise)


Human Brain Project: Henry Markram plans to spend €1bn building a perfect model of the human brain
http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/15/human-brain-project-henry-markram

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

" key objection to the Fury paper"

Surely there were many key objections, for example some are

Unethical behaviour
Preconcieved views influencing the study and setting out to prove that sceptics are delusional
Pretence of a scientific approach
Use of pseudo-science - there is no basis for these pathologies! Just another astrology
Very poor peer review - if you can call it peer review or should it be chum review

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

I can't really see any objection to studying public blog comments.

I agree however the latest release of snippet of a review like this can only invite speculation.

I mean the quoted section can't possibly constitute the entirety of the review can it? So I think it begs some questions.

The debate about ethics is a strange thing when you think about it. "Ethics" considerations are not really legally binding are they? I mean one thing I have learnt looking at this episode is it seem increasingly clear that "ethics" considerations only seem to be an abstract construct that organisations use as a promotional feature. However when tested in the real world they seem not be consistent in any identifiable way that one could understand, unlike like say one could understand a "legal" consideration.

This seems true for Frontiers, and we definitely see it at the University of Western Australia when we look at the paper trail for the ethics approval there. Once Lewandowsky got his 5 year RA/4/1/4007 "ethics" ticket in 2009, ostensibly for an initial study on "statistical analysis", this same tickets purpose was drastically changed around right up to the present Fury paper with barely any further oversight.

Perhaps all this "ethics" posing has left the journal and editors in such a confusion that they could only finally agree on the legal context?

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:21 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Human Brain Project: Henry Markram plans to spend €1bn building a perfect model of the human brain http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/15/human-brain-project-henry-markram
Apr 16, 2014 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

The article doesn't say whose brain they are going to perfectly model. [Craig Venter famously sequenced his own genome, allegedly.]

I imagine some brains could be done for a lot less than €1bn.

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I wonder if an identifiable individual, misdiagnosed, can sue for defamation?

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

I wonder who the "leading researcher on web-based psychological studies" was?
One name comes to mind.

Apr 16, 2014 at 9:55 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

As with Mann and other climate dogmatists, Lewandowsky seems blissfully unaware of the First Law of Holes, viz. when in one, stop digging.

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:09 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Barry, thanks for the reference. It took a while to get there but this rang bells:

But perhaps the biggest criticism of the Human Brain Project is the idea that a computer model can ever be a substitute for hard empirical research.

Markram claims that this misunderstands the project and he's all for empirical research as well. The rest of the article certainly makes my own brain hurt. But, as you imply, not a shrinking violet and not a small force in brain science, as currently conceived. The story of his son with Aspergers is moving and the results there seem (to this amateur) convincing.

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:09 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

michael hart

"some brains could be done for a lot less than €1bn"

Indeed. Although Mr Markram seems to have a touching faith in the power of modelling, which is presumably where he went wrong with climatology.

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:13 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Perhaps they refuse to see what another team of experts said about present social psychology in their fifth chapter:

'Another set of explanatory factors (...) reside in the general manner in which the research was performed both within and outside Mr Stapel’s working environment. It involved a more general failure of scientific criticism in the peer community and a research culture that was excessively oriented to uncritical confirmation of one's own ideas and to finding appealing but theoretically superficial ad hoc results (...). These ‘sloppy science methods’ were found on a large scale in the work of Mr Stapel and his co-workers'.

https://www.commissielevelt.nl/wp-content/uploads_per_blog/commissielevelt/2013/01/finalreportLevelt1.pdf

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterMindert Eiting

Lewandowsky diagnosed 'psychopathological characteristics' in those of us named, according to the publishers, Frontiers. Who are we to argue with the experts?

(Editorial aside: some responses to a troll don't mention its name and may deserve survival?)

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:33 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

She who must not be named has demonstrated the extraordinarily-distorted mindset of those who shout 'denier', real evidence of junk science induced psychopathy.

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterTurnedoutnice

"Joe Public
I wonder if an identifiable individual, misdiagnosed, can sue for defamation?"

A case in the US from 1964 concerned two articles on the character and mental health of a Senator named Goldwater. The second article included the results of a poll of psychiatrists about the Senator's psychiatric health. Senator Goldwater sued and won:

"The Appeals Court considered evidence that might argue for recklessness and malice necessary to prove libel against a public figure. Along those lines, the Appeals Court singled out the following as particularly plausible evidence for recklessness and malice:

"that the defendants had made up their minds early on that something was wrong with Senator Goldwater...that they had selectively recorded... only material consistent with their early thesis....

"The Court noted that the publisher and editor, who were untrained in polling, conducted a survey of psychiatrists, and that the cover letter accompanying the poll would bias any respondents against the Senator...

"Letters from psychiatrists were misrepresented as "professional opinions" in all cases, whereas some were political opinions. In some cases, the letters were edited without alerting readers of Fact about the alterations.

"The Court noted that materials from Fact's characterization of Goldwater,.... were exaggerated half-truths (my words)"


http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-personality-analyst/201003/libel-in-fact-magazine-the-united-states-court-appeals

https://www.casetext.com/case/goldwater-v-ginzburg

What were Bristol thinking?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBOt7ecarc0

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered Commenter52

I propose a deal. I will stop talking about this if everyone else will. The man is a dingbat and his work is garbage. Can we move on?

Apr 16, 2014 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Wait... I thought you said something about 'experts'?

Apr 16, 2014 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterOtter

...namely that the authors published what amounted to diagnoses of the (alleged) psychological pathologies of identifiable individuals without their consent...

I think that Lew's defence is that 'conspiracy ideation' is not an established psychological malady, so it breaches no medical rules to accuse someone of it....

Apr 16, 2014 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

"Perfect" was the Guardian's word, not Markram's. It looks like a pretty interesting project to me.

Apr 16, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Registered Commenterjferguson

What about the idea of FBI profiling..? There's some level of diagnosing someone conclusively without their consent, beginning with specific people and extrapolating out to generalizations. I suppose there's always the justification "in the name of..."...

Apr 16, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterSalamano

Anyone who has followed the life of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, will be aware of the Soviet ploy of declaring dissidents as being mentally ill.

The Soviet Union was perfect so any criticism of it must be from madmen or agents of the decadent West
The IPCC is perfect and the climate models reflect the real world perfectly, so any scepticism must be from madmen or lackeys of the evil fossil fuel industry..

Now where did I put my Himmler outfit - just want to be like my hero John Cook!

Apr 16, 2014 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

...namely that the authors published what amounted to diagnoses of the (alleged) psychological pathologies of identifiable individuals without their consent...

I think that Lew's defence is that 'conspiracy ideation' is not an established psychological malady, so it breaches no medical rules to accuse someone of it....

Apr 16, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Lewandowsky and gang used a paper dressed up as science to attack a group of people they hated.
They found some pals who also hate this group to endorse their paper.
They used sciencey terms and words in their little paper.
Now they whine and pose as they get called out.

Apr 16, 2014 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

There were clearly three, not one, ethical question involved here. The paragraph cited by Lewandowsky would only appear to address one of those.

As I see it the ethical questions concern:
1. The use of blog posts or comments (anonymous or attributed) without informed consent.
2. The interaction researchers and blog posters or commentors without informed consent.
3. The psychological diagnosis of named or identifiable individuals witohut informed consent


The review concluded that 1. was probably OK, although there is debate. I find that reasonable.

But 2 and 3 are not mentioned in the excerpt of the review and I consider those unethical and should not be allowed or tolerated in academic journals.

Lewandowsky and his cheer-leaders studiosly ignore the latter two issues.

Apr 16, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Just to add tat Frontiers explicitly stated that the retraction was based on 3.

And posters such as Steve McIntre and others have pointed out that 2. was also an issue but not addressed.

Apr 16, 2014 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

It's easy to find more than a few extreme views, bizarre mistakes or outlandish theories in hundreds of thousands of comments on any controversial subject. The moderators (if any) may have a light touch and think that presenting a broad range of views, however much they disagree with them, is better than an enforced homogeneity. If nothing else it leads to a livelier debate and good can come out of it.

That's fine until someone with ill-will comes along and cherry-picks those outlier comments, maybe ignores the vast majority of comments which do not agree with the chosen ones, and presents the results as if such views are common or even universal amongst sceptics.

Apr 16, 2014 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

Geckko,

I agree with your summary, but it must be noted that the problem with (2) is not lack of consent, it is rather lack of explicit approval by the ethics committee. Deception (interaction between researcher and subject without informed consent) is used in this field, but it is strictly regulated.

Since this is a matter between researcher and ethics committee, Frontiers is justified in saying that this problem is not their concern; it is a problem that should be raised in discussions with UWA, instead.

The fact that the researcher used deception in his interactions with the ethics committee is, of course, very funny.

Apr 16, 2014 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterMariner

This might be unpopular here but I have been watching this unfold and have some thoughts:

I'm trying not to fall prey to 'conspiracy ideation' but I can't help feel I'm (we're) being played here. I'm not sure whether it is by

# Frontiers/Markram, who are getting a lot of public exposure. I would certainly not have heard of the brain project if it wasn't for this fiasco
# Lewandowski and his crew who are dragging us all into a public slanging match and making the sceptics look almost as bad as the believers are
# Sceptic blogs and commenters. We have won. The fight is over. I don't see the paper getting re-published, either by Frontiers or anyone else any time soon. Time to rest on our laurels?

The sceptics have achieved a lot by focusing on the facts and questioned the maths and science but we are being dragged into the shrill name calling.

The facts are:

#The paper was withdrawn. Not something done lightly
#The journal eventually admitted it was because of ethical questions
#The so called bullying and threats were reasoned objections which turned out to be well founded

That is damning enough, no?

Lew and crew should be screaming into a vacuum by now. Other than responding to this I'm putting Recursive Fury on my list of posts not to read. I don't have enough outrage to go round and currently it is fully occupied with the Finnish moth study ;)

Having said that I can't help but admire Barry's tenacity ;)

Apr 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

Mariner:

The fact that the researcher used deception in his interactions with the ethics committee is, of course, very funny.

Presumably we'll be told in due course that this too was just part of the experiment.

Apr 16, 2014 at 1:52 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

ultimately, the journal pulled it - a forcible retraction, they were blindsided by unethical activists.
and there is ZERO chance it is coming back to Frontiers..... trust me on that one

the concerns should be with UWA, who found 'nothing wrong ethically' (Frontiers disagreed and still pulled it)

Apr 16, 2014 at 2:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

There are no reputable journals any more.

Apr 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Barry Woods.

Human Brain Project: Henry Markram plans to spend €1bn building a perfect model of the human brain
http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/15/human-brain-project-henry-markramarry

If he studies his own brain, he wiil discover that he is suffering from "Amygdala Highjack" just like his
friend Peter Gleik.

Apr 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Professor Markram has behaved impeccably - as far as I'm concerned - the fault is UWA's and the authors.

remember UWA said nothing wrong ethically with the paper, and the approvals to Frontiers. Frontiers STILL pulled it....

Apr 16, 2014 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Geckko, clovis:

To be honest I think the whole research-ethics question is somewhat of a distraction. If Lewandowsky's findings were sound then, while Frontiers might be justified in retracting the paper in order to keep up ethical standards, it would have little or no bearing on how we should react to its findings, just as the Wegman plagiarism issue seems to have little to do with how we should weigh the findings of the Wegman report, or whether or not Climategate was the result of a hack doesn't change the content of the emails. Honestly, Frontiers seems to be focussing on (some of) the informed-consent problems because it's less embarrassing (for them), and less controversial (they hope), to retract the paper on those grounds and so try to avoid dwelling on the fact that, additionally, the research quality was pants.

Apr 16, 2014 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Surely Lews behaviour would make for some interesting research eh? :)

Mailman

Apr 16, 2014 at 4:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Barry:

Professor Markram has behaved impeccably - as far as I'm concerned - the fault is UWA's and the authors.

Thanks for saying this Barry. I admire you more than I ever have. If Markram turns out to have clay feet, well, it won't be the first time we have found that. But I appreciate such a forthright assessment from someone much more able to cope with the detail than I can :)

Apr 16, 2014 at 4:09 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

When you read blog comments you have no real confirmation of who is actually writing them.

Apr 16, 2014 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterson of mulder

Markram's 'impeccable' is improving. I'd be curious just when he got involved in the process.
=========

Apr 16, 2014 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Markram may resent it, but he's been exposed to a marvelous learning opportunity. Will his central nervous system absorb and process it?
==============

Apr 16, 2014 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

late

Apr 16, 2014 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Barry wrote: "Professor Markram has behaved impeccably - as far as I'm concerned"

If he participated in the construction of the original retraction notice, he has not behaved impeccably.

The original notice was a deception. It claimed that ethical problems had not been identified when they had. It implied that the subjects of the paper were responsible for the retraction using frivolous legal threats. The concocted media coverage surrounding the retraction tells you all you need to know about why it was worded the way it was. Media coverage of the clarifications?

Apr 16, 2014 at 5:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveJR

Heh, Barry, Tardive the Tortoise.
=======

Apr 16, 2014 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Lewicide
noun
1.
the action of career self-immolation in peer review.

Lewthanasia
noun
1.
the killing of an academic career suffering from a terminal and painful condition, e.g. on the pages of the Guardian's 97% Consensus blog. See also: assisted Lewicide.

Apr 16, 2014 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Lewkemia

noun

1. inability to recognize irony. H/T HaroldW

Lewcocite

noun

1. Citation of LewPaper - Vanishingly rare.

Apr 16, 2014 at 6:08 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

The key objection is that it was crap on all level , the ethics bad , the design poor , the claims it made rubbish .
Any good university would have failed this if it was an undergraduate handing in an essay , why its acceptable for a 'professional ' in a journal is very good question which perhaps says much about the standards of climate 'science'

Apr 16, 2014 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

All those erudite people and their studies, research and papers, lent a spurious legitimacy and authority to the whole thing and having laid that essential groundwork, facilitated what inevitably followed. They all got away with it too. Every last one of them.

http://thepointman.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/the-real-bastards/

Pointman

Apr 16, 2014 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Wait, there are more:

Lewbricity - here's another chance, HaroldW

Lewdefisk - ?

Lewenhoek, alternative spelling Lewenhook

Apr 16, 2014 at 6:35 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

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