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FOI: Coyne ridiculous

As many readers are aware, our old friend Stephan Lewandowsky has recently published a paper in Nature that sets out his views on the circumstances in which scientists should release their data to others - the thrust of the piece being that he thinks that a favourable answer need only be given to his mates.

I had rather rolled my eyes at this and wondered if I actually wanted to give him the attention that a rebuttal might bring, so I had resolved to ignore it. However, a post by Professor James Coyne, a psychologist who works in Groningen in the Netherlands, suggests that Lewandowsky's article is just part of a wider trend in academia.

Coyne is interested in the scientific controversy over chronic fatigue syndrome, and in particular the so-called PACE trial, a controversial UK-funded research project that assessed different treatments for the condition. The results were published in PLoS One, which demands that data should be made available on request, but unfortunately, when Coyne asked to see the numbers, the authors, led by Professor Peter White of Queen Mary University of London, decided that they were not going to comply. According to an earlier Coyne post, in order to reinforce their point White et al then set their lawyers on the journal:

PLOS One is squaring off with its lawyers against the PACE investigators and their lawyers who are resisting given me the data promised by the PACE investigators having published in PLOS One.

This is where it gets interesting, because familiar names start appearing at quite a pace:

It’s also no secret that Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet has put pressure on the PLOS management to quiet me down at both at their blog site and in social media. Yup, Horton demanded that PLOS clamp down not only what I upload to their blog, but what I say on Twitter and Facebook.

Horton, you will no doubt recall, was on Muir Russell's (alleged) inquiry into Climategate. [Update: Horton wrote the report on peer review for Russell but was not strictly a panel member]

Next up it's Lewandowsky. We learn that:

Peter White [...] enlisted Stephan Lewandowsky to disseminate a misrepresentation of the PACE investigators’ commitment to transparency

...the misrepresentation being, apparently, that Lewandowsky claimed that some of the PACE data had been released. I think it's fair to say that misrepresentation by Lewandowsky is not exactly a surprise. 

And then the Science Media Centre gets involved. Lewandowsky's co-author on the Nature article was Professor Dorothy Bishop, who we noted at BH towers some weeks back as a new advisory board member at the SMC. Now according to Coyne, the SMC has been quietly lobbying to get FOI laws amended:

The SMC is coordinating a letter writing campaign to Parliament instigated by Peter White attempting to get an exclusion from the Freedom of Information Act for request for data.

Just as you think Coyne is going to come out on the side of the angels, however, he says something that shows that his position on data transparency is almost identical to Lewandowsky's:

Lewandowsky’s claim was made in reaction to the two of them being criticized for lumping those who seek the PACE data, like me, with science deniers who must be resisted...

You would have thought that a full professor would have worked out that for FOI to have general support, it must be blind to the identity of the requester. Either we are equal under FOI law or we are not. If all you have to do to resist a data request is to shout "denier" or "vexatious" then not a single datum will ever see the light of day. From White's perspective, Coyne is a "denier":

[In another blog post I will] discuss the origins of the smearing of critics of the PACE trial as science deniers. I’ll explain why we are being lumped with animal rights activists and climate change deniers, but not opponents of fracking.

Grief, some people lack self-awareness, don't they?

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Reader Comments (61)

Is Lewandowsky hoping to rely on his own Research, as a Legal Defence in Court, without having to explain that it should be inadmissable, on the grounds that he made it up? Real Climate Scientists seem to be giving Lewandowsky their full support, possibly for similar reasons.

Feb 2, 2016 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Those with long memories will recall that Lancet Editor Richard Horton has his roots deep in the rich red sub-soil of Corbyn's Socialist Worker/Stop The War hard-left infrastructure.

Here he is in full flow at a STW demo

The Government's current struggle with the junior docs also owes much to infiltration of the medical establishment by the extreme left.

Feb 2, 2016 at 11:39 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Time for the Night of the Long Scalpels methinks....:o)

Feb 2, 2016 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Although it seems ridiculous from our perspective, I don't think we should be too hard on Coyne and the others who are objecting to being lumped in with climate deniers. Like most people, they've been brainwashed and haven't spent time looking into the issue. I think if we patiently explain the remarkable similarities between what they are experiencing now and what the climate sceptic community has been through, they may see the light.

[Richard Horton wasn't actually on the Russell panel, though they invited him to tell them about peer review.]

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:03 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Rent-a-mob agitators do like to operate a 'closed shop', and then claim they have popular support, having banished any dissenting views. Stalin would be so proud.

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Jesus, that's a double face-palm.

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

It just goes to show what a small world we live in, that the usual suspects keep turning up. Birds of a feather flock together and all that.

In a somewhat similar vein, Dr Paul Reiter of The Pasteur Institute has described the way a small cabal of activists at the IPCC cross-reference and cite each other as sources of credibility. Cabal review.
(Via a comment by a Russell at WUWT, Reiter's diagram and explanation is at 34:57 during a wonderful talk about malaria and the spread of mosquitoes around the world in used tyres which provide such good breeding sites by collecting rainfall. No global warming necessary.)

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

@Paul Matthews POA ..actually the Bishes first link takes you to same page you put
(cos Bish's link shows all the pages Coynes posts tagged "data-sharing", and 'Further insights' is at the top of that page)

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:15 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I had corresponded with Horton after the Lancet had released their "medical" findings over the use of DU during GWI and its impact on local communities. All credit to him for replying to me as well.

He admitted the paper was political in nature...just wish I had kept our correspondence!!!!



Feb 2, 2016 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Coyne seems to be unaware that for the scientific method to be upheld, the data should be published from the start, and should not require FOIs to extract it.

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

@Michael Hart : In Youtube you can put the mouse over the video and RIGHT CLICK that gives you an option 'copy video URL at current time'
I did that so here is a direct link to 34:57 where he shows the devious web of self citing papers you mentioned

Transcript : these are the people who speak science to the public and to the media ...and we have very little to say in it
: This is my own publications compared to the publications of so-called experts that's (C) for example.

This very quickly a. networking diagram of the eight activists who have most contributed to the the global warming thing And you can see there are arrows where (A) wrote a review with (B)
..Then if the arrow's got two heads on it then (B) also wrote with (A)
in other words they kept saying 'that these are the facts'
And in fact they made a hundred and ten..well many many publications just by exchanging papers
(new chart) - These are the positions that those people had on the IPCC, so you can see they were major drivers.
They were the people selected for it, and yet all they were doing was publishing each other's rubbish.

This is something written by a of Nobel prize winning physicist (Nikolay Semyonov), after the fall of Kruschev, he wrote
.."There is nothing more dangerous to science than blind passion. This is a direct path to unjustified self-confidence, to loss of self-criticalness, to scientific fanaticism, to false science.
...Given support from someone in power, it can lead to suppression of true science and, since science is now a matter of state importance, to inflicting great injury on the country." (full quote

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:47 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The conceit .... the presumption... to omniscience and infallibility purely on the basis of declared high status is understandable but it certainly ain't "science".

It's very handy for agitators to hide behind the walls of the ivory towers and pour scorn down on the scruffy wretches outside who've the temerity to mount any challenge / question an interpretation that based on undisclosed observation and opaque analysis...

Devious dishonest sh1ts should be called out.

Feb 2, 2016 at 12:51 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Thanks, Stewgreen, that's a useful tip.

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Reading the paper by Lew... (Research integrity: Don't let transparency damage science) he references "Orchestrated and well-funded harassment campaigns against researchers working in climate change" (3,4) but having read paper in ref 4 - it says nothing of the sort.

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Richards

Just goes to show how little scientists know of other sciences that they assume that faults in their own scince are not repeated elsewhere.

I know I've pointed this out before but Richard Horton was responsiblefor the publication of the discredited Andrew Wakefield MMR paper. He didn't retract it until 10 years had passed and Wakefield had been struck off. The paper was not removed because it was rubbish but because Wakefield had broken rules about conflict of interests and eithical flaws. Had the data been published along with the paper, everyone (including the et Al doctors) could have seen the results came from just 12 kids, including several that had had symptoms before the vaccine. Those 12 kids weren't randomly found from examining records but had been directed to Dr Wakefield by lawyers acting on their behalf. In other words 12 out of all the kids vaccinated, not 12 in a smaller selection. The data only came to light when Wakefield tried to sue the journalist doggedly digging into the storey. He had to hand the data over due to disclosure. The defamation case was dropped and finally the British Medical Council finally saw fit to look into Wakefield's behaviour.

I can understand that scientists might want to protect their data for their own advancement but anything that is used in public policy must be publicly available. FOI shouldn't even be needed, it should be there to be examined at any time.

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

There are always calls by those refusing to hand over data that they shouldn't do it because "the requests are vexatious of frivolous". The FOI Commissioner in the UK has categorically stated that there is no purity of motive requirement on behalf of the requester, however.

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterandymc

'those who seek the PACE data, like me, with science deniers who must be resisted..'

why should I show you the data you only want to find something wrong with , remember those words
Now remember how Lew 'papers' old university refused to release the data from his infamous Moon Landing paper ,
The bottom line it is fear of others that creates this need to hid data , not the requirements of practicing good science which in affect the opposite.
And the question is , what are they really afraid off?

Has for Lews 'paper' well I certainly do not expected honesty nor good practice from him , the real shame is for the RS and Bristol University that have taken him under their wing . And if I was one of his students , I demand to be judge by his own standards , knowing that would means I could but any old rubbish in and still pass , and so an easy life .

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

When they have nothing of substance to impart and they make up the figures as they go along all to keep up publication figures up and the grant money rolling in you can't expect them to allow anyone outside to see the bum data, they might call fraud.

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterivan

"some people lack self-awareness"

Especially psychologists, it would seem. Funny that.

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:46 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Just as the benefits of free speech outweigh the risk of being offended and the benefits of an open society outweigh the risk of terrorism, the benefits of open data as a principle outweigh the risks. Publish it all.

Feb 2, 2016 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

PLOS...PLOS...that sounds so familiar:

Seriously, these are the professionals who don't like being reminded by the amateurs that there are rules we all have to play by.

Feb 2, 2016 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligula Jones

Yet more proof that these climate acolytes eat their young.

Feb 2, 2016 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Those who are hiding something usually have something to hide, as the saying goes!

Feb 2, 2016 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

'those who seek the PACE data, like me, with science deniers who must be resisted..'

why should I show you the data you only want to find something wrong with , remember those words
Now remember how Lew 'papers' old university refused to release the data from his infamous Moon Landing paper ,

The bottom line it is fear of others that creates this need to hid data , not the requirements of practicing good science which in affect the opposite.
And the question is , what are they really afraid off?

Feb 2, 2016 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

In most normal cases, I would say that fear of embarrassment over poor record keeping is the most likely explanation. We've all done it. No need for conspiracies. It's how we react to questions about it.

When I wrote up my Ph.D. I recall not being able to find the mass-spectrometry data for one of the very many compounds I made. It caused me more than one sleepless night, despite being trivial in the bigger scheme.
But, unlike Phil Jones at the CRU, I am not the head of a large organisation producing prodidgeous amounts of data that needs to be archived properly yet manages to 'lose' a lot of raw data 'when an office is moved'.

Lewandowsky, IMO, fits into neither the normal category, nor the Phil Jones category. Phil Jones still has some self respect.

Feb 2, 2016 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Thanks @Caligula Jones that leads to one post which shows that
In August "PLOS removes blog defending scrutiny of science"
They REMOVED The Fight Over Transparency: Round Two
By August 13, 2015
by journalists Charles Seife and Paul Thacker that argued in favor of public scrutiny of scientists’ behavior (including emails), following heavy criticism, including from a group and scientist mentioned in the post.
... of the example the journos quoted was getting info about Willy Soon:
..perhaps someone knows more

Feb 2, 2016 at 2:59 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

A bit slow. I just got the post title.

Feb 2, 2016 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterdc

And so did I!

Feb 2, 2016 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

What is it about Stephan Lewandowsky that attracts him to dodgy practices, and dodgy practicioners to him? To lose credibility over one paper might be dismissed as careless, but Lewandowsky and his associated work really ought to be dismissed.

Could a Lewandowsky Index of Credibility be created, featuring known whopping hot plotters such as Skeptical Science, John Cook etc? This would allow the Green effluent discharges of some journals to be assessed with scarcely a sniff, and prevent further contamination of the scientific environment.

Feb 2, 2016 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The God is punishing us for making psychology a science.

Feb 2, 2016 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurious George

We need to face the fact that years of whining among ourselves about the likes of Lewandowsky have got us nowhere.

In the Nature article which gave rise to this affair the fourth reference is to the “Subterranean War on Science" article by Lewandowsky, Mann et al, and under that article were a number of critical comments, including ones by Richard Tol, Jeff Id, Paul Matthews, John Shade, Barry Woods and myself. My comment ended:

The aim of the above paper is clearly to associate his critics with racists, those who send packets of white powder through the post, and those who try to hinder legitimate medical research. It is yet another transparent attempt to paint his critics as mentally unstable.
The accusation remains. Lewandowsky is a liar. His papers are full of errors, based on research so pitifully incompetent it would result in sacking if carried out by the lowliest apprentice market researcher.
He must answer his critics.

Two years on I repeated my libellous accusation under the Nature article. Again there are savagely critical comments by Tol, Matthews, and others. This time we were joined by medical researchers making similar claims on an entirely different subject. Instead of making common cause with us, we get this reference to “science deniers who must be resisted.”

Lewandowsky is happy to let us make well-supported and potentially libellous accusations at prestigious journals like Nature, Psychological Science, Retraction Watch etc. because we're climate deniers, i.e. tin-foil-hatted nobodies. As Tiny CO2 points out above, similar accusations from journalists result in libel actions and disclosure. How do we achieve this?

Feb 2, 2016 at 6:07 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Dorothy Bishop:

"Like many others, I've had the irritating experience of going back to some old data only to find I can't remember what some of the variable names refer to, or whether I should be focusing on the version called final, finalfinal, or ultimate. I've also had the experience of data being stored on a kind of floppy disk, or coded by a software package that had a brief flowering of life for around 5 years before disappearing completely."

Actually no, lots of scientists would not have that problem. That means you are a bad scientist and you would be an ex-employee if this was your attitude to data, in the private sector

Actually the rest of her article, is very good

Feb 2, 2016 at 6:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

"What is it about Stephan Lewandowsky that attracts him to dodgy practices" golf charlie

He thinks his work was good, ergo anyone attacking it is bad. If pressed, he might accept his methods were sightly flawed (who hasn't missed the odd thirty thousand year old when they slip in by accident) he's confident the results were right anyway. Bewildered, he assumes that every scientist that is queried, is as innocent as he is. They need protecting from nasty old outsiders.

Feb 2, 2016 at 6:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Has anyone heard of a superannuated professor for the public understanding of science called Richard Dawkins? He was always sounding off in the media about something or other to do with atheism. Perhaps he should say something about science for a change, e.g. how progress in science depends on transparency. Since many newspapers are willing to report his every utterance he could perform a useful public service by speaking out on this issue.

Feb 2, 2016 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

That'll be the same Dorothy Bishop who was in cahoots with Colquhoun in hounding out Sir Tim Hunt. Class act!

Feb 2, 2016 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

geoffchambers, sadly that was the US court system and the journalist fought the battle pretty much on his own. I don't think we have disclosure here. I get the impression the medical profession hoped it would all blow away. The reporter also had the advantage in that he fought for the consensus, even though the rogue paper was being defended by the system. I became aware of the facts behind the case, while defending vaccination against a doctor who quoted extensively from Wakefield. She even posted a video (since removed) by Horton defending the paper. I'm annoyed I didn't actually watch it. Her argument was that the system closes ranks on unwelcome outsiders. While I accepted that was true and that vaccines have their problems, I asked her not to use Wakefield as an example because he was so clearly in the wrong. Once Deer had done all the work exposing Wakefield, the GMC were forced to act (hence the 10 years). The Lancet's preferred method was just to publish more science and let time bury Wakefield's work. ie nothing is ever wrong. It doesn't seem in all those 10 years that any scientist asked for th data and said 'hang on, this paper is crap'. They just produced better science, that should have been done anyway to justify mass vaccinations. That way nobody asked why journals publish obviously bad papers.

Probably the best way to counter Dr Lew is to publish better papers. There are two reasons for Dr Lew's work. The first is to discredit sceptics but he's unable to use that as his justification. The other is to explore scepticism and see if there are ways to counter it. There are ways, better science, accountability, openess, due dilligence, auditing, solutions, less politics, etc, etc. I'm sure that clever little elves could put together a survey of what sceptics are looking for. And yes, some will even say it's all a hoax. It won't kill Dr Lew's main justification for his nasty papers but it will give better scientists something to think about.

Feb 2, 2016 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Barry woods: You quote Dorothy Bishop ("Like many others, I've had the irritating experience of going back to some old data only to find I can't remember what some of the variable names refer to, or whether I should be focusing on the version called final, finalfinal, or ultimate") - I am gobsmacked that a so-called scientist has not heard of 'version control' for her SW/Progs. The mind boggles - but, as my reading of 'harry_read_me' showed, it's a "Tom Jones process" for them (not unusual).
And on this sort of professional (cough) process we are expected to ruin the first world. [despair]

Feb 2, 2016 at 7:47 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

"The God is punishing us for making psychology a science." - Curious George

I just love the use of the definite article. It speaks volumes, while leaving so much unsaid. Thank you CG.

Feb 2, 2016 at 7:56 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

“It just goes to show what a small world we live in, that the usual suspects keep turning up. Birds of a feather flock together and all that …”.
Further confirmation of Blair’s Law (first postulated by Australian journalist Tim Blair): “… the ongoing process by which the world's multiple idiocies are becoming one giant, useless force …” -- it’s settled science.

Feb 2, 2016 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Hanley

golf charlie - "Could a Lewandowsky Index of Credibility be created"

Well it would run from 0 to, er, um, somewhere near 0 on a scale of 1-10 ?

I don't think it would be useful.

Feb 2, 2016 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

At first I thought this was going to be about the New England Journal of Medicine's stance against "research parasites" who might "even use the data to try to disprove what the original investigators had posited". No, really! In black and white ...

Feb 2, 2016 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Curious to know how transparency in anything to do with science and scientific publications can damage anything unless you have something to hide? Or of course it's a fabrication designed to support some spurious theory that has no basis in fact. Perhaps it should be called Mann's law of the rings.

Feb 2, 2016 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterStu

And, once again, I find you throwing mud at Lewandowsky, a man whose legacy casts a shadow on Newton's.

When will you lot comprehend that, I quote, the "biggest problem that mankind has ever had to face" and the "most existential human crisis that the world has ever known" necessarily recruits the brightest minds humanity has ever had?


Feb 2, 2016 at 9:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAila

Harry Passfield wrote
"I am gobsmacked that a so-called scientist has not heard of 'version control' for her SW/Progs. The mind boggles - but, as my reading of 'harry_read_me' showed, it's a "Tom Jones process" for them (not unusual)."

As a (retired) Senior Software Engineer who worked in Cambridge its exactly what I expect. You have to understand that the software writing is usually done by students working under the supervision of their professors. As such they are at best gifted amateurs with no idea of the rigours a professional software development would impose such as version control , QA testing etc. Worse this means that a given relatively complex software system has never been properly designed or documented and has likely been hacked at by dozens of clever but untrained people. The most dangerous developers I ever came across were the really bright ones. These were the folks who would use variable names like A1 instead of MeasuredAmbientTemperature because they could shave off a millisecond per iteration. They wouldn't comment the code because it was 'self evident what it does'

The graduate who proudly told me that at an interview where I had asked for an example of his code was rather surprised not to get a job offer.

Feb 2, 2016 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Willshaw


Lewandowsky, a man whose legacy casts a shadow on Newton's.
That - THAT - has got to be the quote of the century (OK, so far)! Unbelievable. It's as if there is an academic rohypnol drug out there: where sentient minds get well and truly stuffed by ugly academics. (I've gotta go now and laugh out loud...)

Feb 2, 2016 at 10:12 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

@Feb 2, 2016 at 1:25 PM | TinyCO2

I know it was a typo but scince? YES! YES!
Climate Scince is a perfect description - it must not be queried because it is perfect, and because it can't be queried it must be perfect. Scince because it not quite Science.

Feb 2, 2016 at 10:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterGraeme No.3

Harry Passfield:

I'm pretty sure that Aila is speaking with tongue in cheek. (Pretty sure...)

Feb 2, 2016 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Lewandowsky's co-author of the Nature article (Bishop) does has a very good blog post about the perils to science of p-hacking-hacking

maybe she could explain it to him

Feb 2, 2016 at 10:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Graeme No.3.

Grin. I'm glad my mistypes made you laugh. Adding to my dyslexia, my bad spelling, my bad eye sight, my keyboard with the missing C, my mouse randomly jumping about, someone dropped a fishfinger on my keyboard and now it's got crumbs under some of the keys too. I've tried the vac but short of taking it to bits, it'll be a few weeks before the crumbs are all powdered and my typing is back to just 'terrible'.

Feb 2, 2016 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

TinyCO2, insert keyboard into dishwasher.

Harry Passfield, the gold standard by which the scientific consensus is measured is called Lewandowsky. Deal.

Feb 2, 2016 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterAila

Cutting through Lewandowsky 's bloviation, the bottom line is that he and his co-authors are hoping to distract from the obvious and correct conclusion that he and those who practice what he suggests are simply hiding something adverse to their desires.

Feb 2, 2016 at 11:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

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