Once upon a time …

In a land far, far away there was a paper …

NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax

An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science

Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer, Gilles E. Gignac.

Psychological Science May 2013 vol. 24 no. 5 622-633


Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

As you can see it purports to have something to do with anatomy, it starts with an appeal to consensus, mentions blogs, climate change, various outlandish conspiracies and concludes that fans of free market economics are likely to reject scientific findings whilst horror upon horror believers in outlandish conspiracies think climate science is a conspiracy. And the abstract finishes with another appeal to consensus.

It has been alleged that Professor Lewandowsky received ethics committee approval for a study entitled Understanding Statistical Trends, it bore no resemblance to the survey reported above but having received the approval, perhaps even having completed the original study, approval was sought for some slight amendments. The approval was waved through within 24 hours. With that in hand the good professor stated his intention to conceal his name from those taking the survey.

It has also been alleged that the survey, about climate deniers and conspiracy theorists, was then posted on climate change websites with a pro-consensus bias. Some have been rash enough to suggest that many of the most rabidly anti-science responses were faked by AGW fans keen to see a good outcome.

The paper has also been criticised on the grounds that a mere 10 responses are the ground that the conclusions stand on.

Not surprisingly the paper was greeted enthusiastically in some circles and with a great gnashing of teeth in others. The great gnashing of teeth provided material for a further paper published in Frontiers in Psychology which has since been withdrawn.

Notwithstanding Professor Lewandowsky’s preeminence as a climate psychologist, the paper does nothing to advance the cause of science. Just as most of the species that ever existed have become extinct, most scientific theories have been rejected in the light of subsequent examination. The heat has most definitely gone out of the phlogiston theory for example. It is a normal part of science to question findings and reject even the most fervently defended consensus when it is shown to be wrong.

Professor Lewandowsky was working at the University of Western Australia when the Hoax paper was published. Some among the gnashers questioned whether the ethics guidelines were followed. It is alleged that instead of investigating that matter the University allowed the good professor to write his own response which was then released above the signature of another University employee.

Science has occasionally gone seriously astray, a classic example is found in the N-rays debacle

In 1903, Blondlot, a distinguished physicist who was one of eight physicists who were corresponding members of the French Academy of Science, announced his discovery while working at the University of Nancy and attempting to polarize X-rays. He had perceived changes in the brightness of an electric spark in a spark gap placed in an X-ray beam which he photographed, and he later attributed to the novel form of radiation, naming this the N-rays for the University of Nancy. Blondlot, Augustin Charpentier, Arsène d’Arsonval and approximately 120 other scientists in 300 published articles[1] claimed to be able to detect N-rays emanating from most substances, including the human body with the peculiar exceptions that they were not emitted by green wood and by some treated metals. Most researchers of the subject at the time used the perceived light of a dim phosphorescent surface as “detectors”, although work in the period clearly showed the change in brightness to be a physiological phenomenon rather than some actual change in the level of illumination. Physicists Gustave le Bon and P. Audollet and spiritualist Carl Huter even claimed the discovery as their own, leading to a commission of the Académie des sciences to decide priority.

Physicists elsewhere attempted to replicate the phenomenon but could not. N-rays bit the dust when the American physicist Robert W. Wood travelled to Blonlot’s laboratory …

In the darkened room, Wood secretly removed an essential prism from the experimental apparatus, yet the experimenters still said that they observed N-rays. Wood also secretly replaced a large file that was supposed to be giving off N-rays with an inert piece of wood, yet the N-rays were still “observed”. His report on these investigations were published in Nature,[7] and they suggested that the N-rays were a purely subjective phenomenon, with the scientists involved having recorded data that matched their expectations.

Replication of results is an important pillar of the scientific method. Imagine the situation if the method by which to demonstrate n-rays was withheld. The phenomenon could not then be disproved. Professor Lewandowsky’s results could be checked, indeed they may be the best argument for his conclusions. He has been asked for them. They were not made available. The University of Western Australia has also been asked for them. Professor Paul Johnson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia has pretended that it is against University policy to release such data when according to the University’s policies data sharing is encouraged.

Anthony Watts sums it up thus …

The issue with Lewandowsky is unscientific and unethical behavior by creating an advance conclusion (all climate skeptics are conspiracy nutters) followed by attempts to hide his association with the study to people who were polled, selective distribution of the poll, mainly to websites who are advocates of climate action, then outright mocking of the very people who was supposedly studying, then actually writing in his own conclusions to an ethics investigation that was supposed to be done independently.

The good professor is accused of writing a fairy tale. The University of Western Australia is busy making sure we don’t find out if that’s true.