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Lewandowsky and the paleoparticipant

José Duarte has been taking a look at another paper by Stephan Lewandowsky and, hard though it is to believe, it's almost as bad as his previous ones. The study is apparently a survey of a sample of the US population and purports to show that conservatives have a propensity to reject climate science.

José's post is unmissable, but here's a flavour of the thing:

A much more serious problem, however, is that there is fake data in the PLOS ONE sample. Most consequentially, there is a 35,757-year-old, a veritable paleo-participant. (Data here.)

There are also seven minors, including a 5-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

This would be a serious problem in any context. We cannot have minors or paleo-participants in our data, in the data we use for analyses, claims, and journal articles. It's even more serious given that the authors analyzed the age variable, and reported its effects. They state in their paper:

--- "Age turned out not to correlate with any of the indicator variables."

This is grossly false. It can only be made true if we include the fake data. If we remove the fake data, especially the 32,757-year-old, age correlates with most of their variables. It correlates with six of their nine conspiracy items, and with their "conspiracist ideation" combined index. It also correlates with views of vaccines – a major variable in their study.

At this rate Paul Nurse will be making him a fellow of the Royal Society.

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Reader Comments (89)

Someone please quickly explain
Barry was told by UWA he couldn't' have access to the data. Yet now Duarte gives a link to where the data is on the UWA server. ???
- And he had this info in August ..So secondly why are we only making a fuss now ?

Jan 7, 2015 at 2:54 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen


Different papers, different data sets.

Jan 7, 2015 at 3:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

I would also suspect that in this case, the journal insisted on the data being made freely available.

Jan 7, 2015 at 3:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

I think that Lew's papers are going to be of great interest to future psycho analysts. Just not for the reasons he might hope...

Jan 7, 2015 at 4:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith L

Lew has acknowledged the error on Twitter.

Jan 7, 2015 at 6:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

The tweet Richard Tol presumably refers to is which says

Yes, 1 sentence requires correction. Has no impact on conclusions, ...

Jan 7, 2015 at 7:45 AM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones


I'm not convinced that the erratum will stop at the one sentence. If I read the paper correctly, they removed "age" in an early stage of the data analysis because of what turned out to be a fake data point. If they restore age, all other relationships may shift -- and that is indeed what Duarte says he found.

Jan 7, 2015 at 8:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

The 32 ,757 year old man wow

and i thought a 17 year old girl with a prince in Florida was underage.


Jan 7, 2015 at 8:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I don't know why you give Lew the oxygen of publicity. If history even acknowledges these people, it won't be in a nice way. As for the quality of the work (and at risk of invoking Godwins) it reminds me of the way psychiatry and medicine produced papers in 30s Germany on the inferiority of the non-Aryan races. They were complete fabrications, but because they supported the bien pensant views of the day, they were accepted as if they were high science. The problem isn't with Lew himself, a 3rd-rater nobody in a crap pretend field.... the problem is the intellectual society that WANTS to believe anyone who disagrees with them is inferior or defective. Lew is a symptom of a sickness, not the sickness itself

Jan 7, 2015 at 9:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames


Lewandowsky has the oxygen of publicity in the Guardian, the conversation, the telegraph and the mainstream media!!

Thus very important to bring the 'errors' to peoples attention. And the msm may pick up on it

Lew HAS the oxygen of the msm. And lots of it

The plosone paper has always had data available (not a new paper, out for a year)

The psychological science paper LOG12), is the paper that uwa refuses to release the dataset

Jan 7, 2015 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

32757 was likely someone born 27 March 1957 who can't fill in a form properly.

Jan 7, 2015 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

I wonder if he noticed that socialists tended believe alarmism? Nah, probably asking too much.

Jan 7, 2015 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterTuppence

The reason for giving Lewandowsky this publicity is so that, the day the mainstream media take an interest, they have all the information in one place. No journalist is going to chase through three years of blog articles about statistics and opinion surveys just because some professor said something wrong. The Neanderthal thing might just get them thinking, plus the fact that Lewandowsky was given a five figure sum of taxpayers' money and a medal from the Royal Society to attract him to Britain, plus the fact that he's been called a liar and a charlatan in dozens of articles and hasn't defended himself, and so on.
It's boring I know, but one day some glimmer of light will escape from the black hole of the sceptic blogosphere and be spotted by the media.

Jan 7, 2015 at 10:55 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Yes, 1 sentence requires correction. Has no impact on conclusions, ...
Jonathan Jones

It still shows a poor approach to data control and handling , which would have been a problem for marks any undergraduate handing an essay would have got. But then in climate 'science' their simply seems to be no standards at all. If I was his student I demand to judge by 'Lew papers' own poor standards, becasue that would make my own studies a lot easer , or ask him why it was not OK for me as student in act in this way but perfectly OK for him has professional acedmic to .

Jan 7, 2015 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Geoff and Barry Woods,

I understand what you're saying, and I'm glad someone is doing it.

What I am saying is that it's almost pointless (in terms of the wider mainstream) because no matter how many refutations Lew gets, the media don't report them. People still quote the 97% figure at me, and when I tell them that study has been pulled to death by proper statisticians so that it's completely worthless, they look at you and say "ah but who is paying THOSE statisticians".

This is what I mean by a sickness. They have constructed a clever narrative where they are allowed to say anything they like, and anyone who criticises is seen as having questionable motives. Who but the truly evil would say anything against the noble scientists trying to save the planet? In the lay population, people don't understand that the nobility of science comes from it's complete lack of deference to scientists, science is egalitarian - patent clerks can trump leading academics.

The media world is based on emotional responses. They live their lives by narratives, not by facts. And the narrative of brave noble scientists battling against redneck bible-bashers who want to keep the status-quo is far far too attractive for them to resist. Who wants to hear about some middle-rater climate scientist who made a mistake with his sums? That's not part of the narrative, even if it's true. A yee-haw Texan with an oil-well in his back yard and a bible in his pocket, funding a massive disinformation campaign fits in with the narrative better, true or not, because history has shown us that white men raping the land for profit is a good trope for a story.

To really win this, we need to stop worrying so much about what the scientist, activists and Lew-ish hangers-on are actually saying, and look at what part of the good v evil narrative it is trying to appeal to. The climate scare has been a successful meme, not because of the accuracy of the science, but because of the heartstrings it twangs. A new narrative must be constructed where they are the bad guys and we are the good guys. This narrative needs to be less about facts and more about appealing to that archetypal good v evil narrative that is attractive to the emotional side of the people and the arty media types.

Jan 7, 2015 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

You raise an interesting point. The Lewandowsky and Oreskes posts seem to raise a common issue. As to the solution, I think Alex Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuel provides an interesting polemical counterpoint and forces the debate to focus on measures of human well-being. Alas getting the mainstream media to give due credit to fossil fuel and fossil fuel companies will happen the day Hell freezes over.

Jan 7, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie1815

It’s not clear that Stephan Lewandowsky faked the data to rig the results but that is by far the most likely explanation.

Someone or something faked the data and Stephan Lewandowsky didn’t correct it. He must have calculated the mean and thus have known there was a fake age in the mix. Why look for two conspirators when he could have done it all himself?

Later, however, he must have had support in faking the data unless he has deceived his colleagues as well.
The children are a legal risk to the UWA and University of Bristol. Yet someone has deliberately said they will breach guidelines in order to use the fake data.

Did he gull them, or are the UWA and University of Bristol neglectful of child welfare?

They should be asked.

Jan 7, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

Jan 7, 2015 at 10:55 AM | Registered Commenter geoffchambers

Fully agree. And another big piece in the collection is the ultimate irony that Lewandowsky's reasonable papers on cognitive bias, prior to getting into climate and jumping off the deep end into conspiracy ideation, not only help map the route to his own bias on the topic, but actually describe pretty well major mechanisms via which the whole climate domain has become saturated with bias.

Jan 7, 2015 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

So his point is that we believe "science" that fits with our political prejudices more than science that does not?


What insight this brilliant mind has.

Jan 7, 2015 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Hammond

José Duarte - "I'm drafting a longer magazine piece about this and related scams, especially the role of journals and organizations like APS, IOP, and AAAS in promoting and disseminating fraudulent science. This situation is embarrassing at this point. If anything were to keep me from running the magazine piece, it's that it's so embarrassing to report that this junk can actually be published in peer-reviewed journals, that no one looks at the data, and that a left-wing political agenda will carry you a long way and insulate you from normal standards of scientific conduct. This reality is not something I expected to find when I chose to become a social scientist. I'm still struggling to frame it.

Normally, the host institution would investigate reports of fraud or misconduct, but the system appears to be broken. Lewandowsky has not been credibly investigated by the University of Western Australia. They've even refused data requests because they deemed the requester overly critical of Lewandowsky. That's stunning – I've never heard of a university denying a data request by referring to the views of the requester. UWA seems to have exited the scientific community. Science can't function if data isn't shared, if universities actively block attempts to uncover fraud or falsity in their researchers' work."


Jan 7, 2015 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Thomson

"The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."

- John William Gardner.

Jan 7, 2015 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterO2bnaz2

I don't subscribe to the view that the data was faked. But I did notice that if you take the biggest 16 bit integer(65535) and half it, it comes to 32767

Close, but no cigar. Unless one 'Oreskesizes' the error margin

Jan 7, 2015 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

Yes, 1 sentence requires correction. Has no impact on conclusions, ...
How many times have we seen this three-pronged line of defence?

1. We are right, no ifs or buts.

2. (When faced with irrefutable proof to the contrary) - OK, we got a tiny detail wrong, but it is insignificant and we are still right.

3. Those who dispute our findings are deniers/mentally ill delusionals/rabid conservatives. We are right, as we said all along.

Depressingly predictable.

Jan 7, 2015 at 7:07 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

TBYJ - excellent comment. We ignore people like Lew and Mann at our peril, because they feed the narrative. It's no use sitting in a corner and bleating about "science." Almost nobody cares.

The challenge is to link these individuals to soaring energy prices at home, environmental destruction (e.g. wind installations), and misery for people in poor countries abroad. That captures both self-interest and the altruists who can afford the ridiculous and unnecessary high prices.

There is a viable alternative narrative there, but most Western politicians are too dumb and/or too timid to adopt it. UKIP has had a go, Tony Abbott won an election with it, and several Eastern European pollies have not been afraid to go down that path. But they are still a minority.

Jan 7, 2015 at 7:22 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

"Yes, 1 sentence requires correction. Has no impact on conclusions, ..."

Does the sentence include the title and author?

Jan 7, 2015 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterHot under the collar

EternalOptimist -
Somewhere (Blair's blog comment?) there was a suggestion which I found likely: the participant entered his birthday (03/27/57 American style) rather than his age.
I also first thought of 32767 (largest value for a 16-bit signed integer) but it doesn't pan out.

Jan 7, 2015 at 8:22 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Jan 7, 2015 at 12:24 PM | TheBigYinJames
I agree absolutely with your first three paragraphs in which you analyse where we are, but I disagree with your proposed solution. Constructing narratives is what marketing men do. Dividing the world into goodies and baddies is for ideologues. A small group of disorganised individuals claiming that they're right and all the rest of the world are wrong is never going to be more than a joke to most people. Anyway, ther are already several narratives around: “follow the money” “watermelons”, "rational optimism”, etc. They're repeated with tiresome regularity, eg in the comments threads at WUWT.

We need to face the fact that we are never going to compose a narrative that will be heard. The best we can hope for is to point the mainstream media to an interesting story. Social scientists saying silly things is a staple. When he's got a gold medal from the Royal Society and has been quoted by Obama, that starts to be newsworthy.

Jan 7, 2015 at 8:49 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Tim Hammond (Jan 7, 2015 at 3:36 PM) says

So his point is that we believe "science" that fits with our political prejudices more than science that does not?

Lewandowsky has, inadvertently, provided good evidence for this in two earlier surveys with respect to belief in climate science. His first survey was the notorious "NASA faked the moon landing:Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science". This was placed in blogs - all strongly supportive of the climate consensus. This was followed up (using mostly the same questions) by "The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science". This was an internet survey of the US population.

The survey of the US population had a fairly normal distribution of responses on both beliefs about climate change and on the free-market questions. That is the average response was in the middle.
Unsurprisingly for a survey placed on climate consensus blogs, the vast majority of respondents had strong beliefs in support of climate change. There was a similar skewed distribution for free-market beliefs. Frequenters of the blogs have very left-environmentalist political beliefs.

The question is then what is cause and what is effect in the beliefs of supporters of the climate consensus? Does the recognition of the projected climate catastrophe give the realization that left-authoritarian regimes are needed to supplant liberal democracy? Or does a vague, apocalyptic, pseudo-scientific hypothesis give justification for a desired form of society?
Before answering, you may want to check the evidence.

Jan 7, 2015 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterKevin Marshall

32,757 is interesting as a number. In Hexadecimal it becomes 7FF5.

This comes out as 111111111110101 in binary notation. It is only decimal 11 short of 32768 which is 2 to the power of 16.

Could any of this be significant? Probably not.

Jan 7, 2015 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterANH

Narratives : Problem is yer bloody immigrants denialists !
.. The simple kneejerk

- See how PROJECTION again is the activist hallmark.
All the old Lew psychology actually applies to them particularly summed up in
// we believe "science" that fits with our political prejudices more than science that does not? //

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:48 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Our narrative ? "tell the truth ... in all complexity" surely that's the attitude of people here on BH

...I agree with @geoffchambers rather than push a narrative of higher power bills/green corruption that @BigYin & @Johanna suggested in "A new narrative must be constructed".
No the activists/media construct narratives and "constructed reality", that is their game, but there is only one real world.
...And that is what we want the media to show not a constructed reality ..that is pushed by The Guardian, BBC and new Alf Garnetts.

More and more the actual public are getting more sophisticated and understanding reality is complicated eg. when they see a politician promise not to cut the NHS they know the money has to come from somewhere.

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:51 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Did no one else check the latest news on Lew ?
I did, somes days before Duarte.s article. It was this How to debunk false beliefs without having it backfire December 22, 2014

- It features the 97% claim
you but then ends
"Lewandowsky: One thing that I would point out is that it’s very important for people to be skeptical and anticipate that people will be misleading to the public. Some of the misinformation that’s out there is not accidental. I think there’s quite a bit that’s put into the public discourse in order to have a political effect. It’s supposed to be wrong, but effective."

the article allows no comments

Article in New Internationalist The psychology of climate change -7 Dec 2014 It features the normal pleading etc
Only has 3 comments one an ironic one from a sceptic

It features the line "despite large sections of the media remaining skeptical."

So we have to be careful of saying as @Bigyin implies "all the media drink warmist koolaid" cos warmists can clearly point to Booker, Delingpole, Bolt, David Rose and smear rebutalls of of alarmist hype as Daily Mail & Fox News crap to be dismissed. Whereas we know DM & Fox will publish anything that their audience will click on, whether its pro or anti-alarmist.
Similarly Guardian type media these days is dedicated to getting their audience to click , with truth being way down the list of priorities.
Modern media is entertainment not education.

Jan 8, 2015 at 3:12 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

"Jorge: Lysenko was in the forefront of my mind also. Can you imagine being a student in Lewandowsky's class or, potentially even worse, Oreskes'?" --bernie1815

One cringes at the thought. Have you seen the videos of Lewandowsky holding forth? With Aussie accent.

"jorgekafkazar: That's a great anagram!" --HaroldW

Thanks, Harold. It's helpful for spelling purposes.

Jan 8, 2015 at 6:39 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

This was an internet survey of the US population.
I don't think that's right. Did he exclude non-US IP addresses? People from all over the world comment on internet sites.

Re "narratives", I understand that some people find the concept unattractive or impure or something. But in democracies, there is always a narrative which feeds into voting behaviour, whether you like it or not. Abandoning the field because it involves getting down and dirty just allows the opposition to walk all over you.

And, just as the Bish's books present a narrative, politicians need to have one too. It means pulling together disparate bits of information to make sense of things. What is wrong with that in principle?

There is nothing worse than loose-cannon "independents" who claim not to be politicians and are elected. First, it's a lie on its face. Second, in almost every case, they are undisciplined in their thinking, capricious, and way out of their depth.

To be effective in any field, you need an internal narrative to keep yourself from going nuts. And in public life, you need a coherent external one as well. Far from being sinister, it's a sine qua non if anything is to be achieved.

Jan 8, 2015 at 7:04 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

I think you are being naïve if you believe people in general don't run on narratives.

Jan 8, 2015 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

@Jo @BigYin There is a problem with narratives. Warmists have lost long term support precisely cos they use a narrative approach They got people in the short term*, but they were caught lying to protect their narrative they've lost them from the long term.
- Yes people do respond better to "stories" rather that complicated truths, but the truth must be the centre of the narrative otherwise you get caught out.

- *Interesting to me that the warmists policy seems to be "The young support us, we'll just wait a few years then those skeptics, they are oldies and they'll all die out and then we've won"
.....but the truth seems to be those young become older and join us skeptics.

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:11 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen


Yes people do respond better to "stories" rather that complicated truths, but the truth must be the centre of the narrative otherwise you get caught out.

Eventually. The problem is that waiting around for the truth to be out could mean committing to dangerous mitigation policies which could cost us and our children a lot of economic comfort.

In the same way that they are waiting for the old crusty sceptics to die, we are waiting for the baby-boomer generation of scientists trying to make emotional amends for inventing the A-bomb to die.

It takes a long time, however.

Jan 8, 2015 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

a two's complement signed 16-bit integer can hold the values −32768 to 32767

So the 32757 number looks seems strangely close to the max.

If anything I would say it's possibly an artifact of storage and conversion. (excel can do some strange stuff automatically).

Jan 8, 2015 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered Commenternot impressed

The works of Oreskes, Lewandowsky, Ehrlich and their ilk demonstrate a structural weakness in the academy that puts us all at risk.

Jan 9, 2015 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

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