A Climate of Conspiracy
Last year Hugo wrote on the blog about an article called “NASA Faked the Moon Landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science“, by Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer and Gilles Gignac.
Their main finding, based on a survey of climate-blog visitors, was that “endorsement of free market economics predicted rejection of climate science”. They also reported a less strong, but nonetheless significant, association between the endorsement of a group of conspiracy theories and the rejection of climate science.
This paper prompted a storm of outrage on climate sceptic blogs. So the researchers decided to do a further study, analysing the responses to the original paper, looking in particular at the ways in which the paper was being discredited and attacked. They claimed that their critics were using conspiracy theories to explain the production of the original paper, suggesting, for instance, that some respondents to the researchers’ survey might in fact have been climate science advocates pretending to be sceptics in order to discredit them by making foolish statements on their behalf.
The results were published last year in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, in a paper called “Recursive Fury: Conspiracist Ideation in the Blogosphere in Response to Conspiracist Ideation” (Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer and Michael Marriott).
I’d like to read this paper, but Frontiers in Psychology retracted it last month. The retraction, they explained, was in response to a small number of complaints and following an investigation in which they “did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study” but in which they “did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear”.
Clear? Not exactly. This statement in itself raised accusations that “conspiracy theorists” had intimidated a journal into withdrawing a paper with “bogus legal threats” (thanks to Vickie for bringing this to my attention).
So a few days ago the journal published a further statement clarifying their position. They did not, they said, “cave into threats”. Some of the complaints they received about the paper were “well argued and cogent”. Following their own investigation, they decided that “the article categorizes the behaviour of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics”. The authors, they add, have agreed to resubmit a version of the paper that doesn’t raise this problem. I look forward to reading it.
All’s well that ends well? We probably haven’t heard the last of this.