the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Clarification of Understanding

Posted by Jeff Id on April 11, 2014

From WUWT and Frontiers of Psychology – a further clarification of the retraction.    I made it clear in my complaint that it didn’t seem ethical to identify and attack people in a scientific journal – after reading their code of ethics documents – and it seems others did the same.   Besides the basic ethics rationalization for retraction, I note that Frontiers left this in the middle of the paper below:

because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization.

So they have identified themselves as sympathetic believers in a field now more akin to religion than science.   It was clearly done to let everyone know they are still on the send-us-checks and don’t-boycott-us team.  As to the rest of the content, I’m less impressed now with their reaction than I was previously.   The journal clearly doesn’t recognize just how dysfunctional they have become when the reason for retraction of a hack and slash blogpost disguised as a paper, is because names were used and nothing to do with its otherwise unscientific nature.

Anyway – here it is in full:

Rights of Human Subjects in Scientific Papers

The retracted Recursive Fury paper has created quite a blogger and twitter storm. A sensational storm indeed, with hints to conspiracy theories, claims of legal threats and perceived contradictions. It has been fury – one of the strongest human emotions – that has (perhaps understandably at first sight) guided the discussion around this retraction. Not surprisingly though, the truth is not as sensational and much simpler.

The studied subjects were explicitly identified in the paper without their consent. It is well acknowledged and accepted that in order to protect a subject’s rights and avoid a potentially defamatory outcome, one must obtain the subject’s consent if they can be identified in a scientific paper. The mistake was detected after publication, and the authors and Frontiers worked hard together for several months to try to find a solution. In the end, those efforts were not successful. The identity of the subjects could not be protected and the paper had to be retracted. Frontiers then worked closely with the authors on a mutually agreed and measured retraction statement to avoid the retraction itself being misused. From the storm this has created, it would seem we did not succeed.

For Frontiers, publishing the identities of human subjects without consent cannot be justified in a scientific paper. Some have argued that the subjects and their statements were in the public domain and hence it was acceptable to identify them in a scientific paper, but accepting this will set a dangerous precedent. With so much information of each of us in the public domain, think of a situation where scientists use, for example, machine learning to cluster your public statements and attribute to you personality characteristics, and then name you on the cluster and publish it as a scientific fact in a reputable journal. While the subjects and their statements were public, they did not give their consent to a public psychological diagnosis in a scientific study. Science cannot be abused to specifically label and point out individuals in the public domain.

It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization. But the importance of the subject matter does not justify abandoning our principles.

Frontiers’ core mission is to improve peer review. One principle that we follow is that scientific publishing should sit in the hands of scientists. Frontiers implements this principle by supporting scientists to operate the peer-review process from the beginning to the end. Frontiers remains faithful to this mission, despite the risks that comes with it. We will stay the course because we fundamentally believe that authors should bear the full responsibility of submitting papers with the highest standards and that scientists should bear the full responsibility of deciding what science is published. After publication, the community is engaged and a post-publication review naturally follows. Post-publication review is facilitated by the Frontiers’ commenting and social networking platforms. This process may reveal fundamental errors or issues that go against principles of scholarly publishing. Like all other journals, Frontiers seriously investigates any well-founded complaints or allegations, and retraction only happens in cases of absolute necessity and only after extensive analysis. For the paper in question, the issue was clear, the analysis was exhaustive, all efforts were made to work with the authors to find a solution and we even worked on the retraction statement with the authors. But there was no moral dilemma from the start – we do not support scientific publications where human subjects can be identified without their consent.
Henry Markram
Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers

36 Responses to “Clarification of Understanding”

  1. I read the gratuitous offering to the faithful of Baal as well. I figured that was an attempt to keep more editors from jumping. But yea, it could very well be “send money” as well.

  2. Kenneth Fritsch said

    From the beginning of observing Frontiers tip toeing around the big picture issues in this case, it was obvious, that as a journal attempting to retain some repute with the silent class of readers and at the same time to placate the more vociferous partisans in the AGW debates, they were in a quandary.

    What is most disconcerting to me in this case is not that there are people like Lewandowsky who would use extreme and personal means to political ends, but that there are publisher (and, yes, I include Frontiers here) and defenders who support these tactics. I am also curious how many climate scientists have objected to general tone that Lewandosky’s and Frontier’s message imparts to the climate debates.

    I would think it is a lot easier to take personally the attempts at defamation if there were an outcry from the climate community against these actions, but so far I have seen none. And it is not as though the issue has been hidden or is off the radar screen for these people.

    • but that there are publisher (and, yes, I include Frontiers here) and defenders who support these tactics.

      That perhaps is the most disturbing part of this. The ends justify the means. It is how Stalin and Hitler got away with what they did. Now I can understand (not condone, just understand) politicians doing it, but for Psychologists and Psychiatrists? They are doing experiments on live people with no thought to the effects.

    • Jeff Id said


      I just can’t find the “reasonable” in the mess they made. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that the paper was a blatant character attack and it doesn’t take a statistician to see through the rubbish stats. None of it was within the realm of normalcy that anyone could expect from a scientific study. That they would publish it, is just inexcusable.

      • Kenneth Fritsch said

        Jeff, I think that some skeptics at these blogs let some of these climate related papers off the hook by analyzing specific technical details and sometimes seemingly, to me at least, losing track of the basic problems involved. It comes across to the non technical and less informed reader as though the paper/methodology/evidence would be fine if the specific problem were fixed and a problem that without context of the general errors of approach and other specific errors would appear not as a game breaker. I have even seen this tactic employed by the authors of papers with many basic flaws in answering their critics – they concentrate on one specific error at a time and point to that single error in isolation as not “significantly” affecting the paper’s conclusions..

        Some skeptics are also too much in hurry to read with favor comments from those who to me appear to be engaging exclusively in damage control. Frontiers has only conceded of the Fury paper that it has the error of identifying participants and unbelievably that took several complaints and months of discussions with the authors for them to make a public retraction.

        • Jeff Id said

          I agree with you about the reaction to Frontiers efforts to cover their butts. They were seriously stuck in a bad legal situation and they knew it. They were also stuck with a bad paper.

          Your comment reminds me of the upside down tiljander argument with Mann when the whole methodolgy was scrooged.

  3. timg56 said


    That was pretty much my comment over at WUWT.

    Regardless of any ethical problems, how does such poor work, both the Fury and Moon Hoax papers, get published?

  4. M Simon said

    Funny they didn’t catch the “error” before publication.

  5. Jeff, while the climate comment was annoying, I took a different take on the article’s tone in the last paragraph:

    “After publication, the community is engaged and a post-publication review naturally follows. Post-publication review is facilitated by the Frontiers’ commenting and social networking platforms. This process may reveal fundamental errors or issues that go against principles of scholarly publishing. Like all other journals, Frontiers seriously investigates any well-founded complaints or allegations, and retraction only happens in cases of absolute necessity and only after extensive analysis”

    They are saying that they only retract papers for severe ethical/legal/etc. problems. They prefer to let OTHER errors — such as the paper being no better than a poorly thought out blog post — be handled after publication, where “fundamental errors” very well may be found. i suspect that they did not want to come out and say that they agreed that this paper is shit. They did say that it was an unethical paper and that the authors were uncooperative in fixing these points.

    • Jeff Id said


      It is reasonable to let potentially bad science be published when there is a good question as to whether it is reasonable science. This was pretty well beyond weak in my opinion but I take your point. When something this weak and spiteful is published, it seems more likely that the reviewers simply published it because they liked the conclusions rather than holding some belief that this might be good science.

      • j ferguson said

        I think there is. I can vaguely remember during my stint as a research assistant in an experimental psychology shop that the elders wanted what they thought to be a particularly virulent strain of heresy in their end of the field to be properly suppressed once and for all.

        They were somehow able to get it’s principal proponent (et. al.) to write a paper which adequately comprehended the area so plainly that when it was reacted to in print later on, it withered and was gone.

        This would have been much harder to do without publication of the “heresy.”

        • Jeff Id said

          It is hard for me to see this as part of the process, but it might just be.

        • hunter said

          While ethical psych researchers may not like Lewandowsky, Frontiers shows us that the highly infectious idea of AGW offers huge temptations to minimize actions regarding Lewandowsky. Even when caught out with two crap papers, only one gets withdrawn, and on technicalities at that.
          There is a legit question in defense of Lew ethics: We are all over the blogosphere blogging away. He quotes what is written. That leads to people able to look up those quotes. Is that the same as experimenting on people?
          Now I find his work contrived crap. I find his assignment of made up pscho-babble as some sort of pathology to be phony and transparent game playing on his part. I find his efforts to dehumanize his opponents to be the unethical behavior. And much worse than quoting people in ways that identify them. His research is much closer to the eugenics-inspired work that
          scientifically showed that certain races- always those of the researcher- were superior. And that certain races- always those the researcher was prejudiced against- were inferior and needed some sort of legal control imposed on.

          • Jeff Id said

            ” He quotes what is written.”

            I think it is fully reasonable to quote what is written. I don’t think quoting what was written is a problem at all or even in question at this point.

            It is unethical to assign pathological diagnoses to people by name in a scientific journal. Especially true considering the sordid history of psychology in general, but even if the diagnoses were more founded on science than opinion it would be unethical. In my personal case, he didn’t quote what I wrote at all, nor make an attempt to. What he did was assign me a belief I don’t hold and then declare the holding of that belief a pathological condition. After arguing about it by email, he then wrote a belief that I do hold and presented it as though it were not rational to hold that belief even though he was given direct evidence that the statement is true. Specifically, the discussions by Phil Jones with officials regarding FOI. From his perspective, if we assume the papers nefarious goal was about disparaging bloggers considered by the establishment to be scientifically dangerous, it accomplishes what it intended. Unfortunately, I can’t think of another reasonable interpretation of events at this point.

          • hunter said

            You make the most important point, and it is the one that damns his peers: That Lew did not bother quote people correctly, and assigned pathological diagnoses on people based on his disagreeing with their opinions. Just making up diseases is dubious enough. Doing it to punish those who disagree with one’s opinion is corrupt. It is obvious but worth repeating: Lewadowsky only has an *opinion* regarding climate. He is not a climate scientist. He only believes stuff about climate doom because he lies how it sounds. He himself has done no research on the topic. Yet he holds that his opinion is so infallible that to disagree with his opinion on climate issues is a sign of a mental disorder.

  6. hunter said

    There there is the annoying sign off signature mantra of the climate obsessed, “climate change is a threat to civilization” is more like a secular prayer. It is certainly not a statement based on evidence.

  7. Nullius in Verba said

    Principles are all very well, but they’ve got a business to run. Didn’t you say the same in your blog post on ‘Winning and Losing’?

    “We experienced it first-hand last week, where the top VP level buyer of a major customer that, every single reader here knows by sight, discussed with me — sustainability. I did not explain my/our (as there are other non-authoritarian partners who were present) background to them, other than the fact that we make the most efficient lighting products in our category.”

    That’s one of the big reasons this fight is so difficult. People are vulnerable – and even if they are willing to risk their own well being, there are families, friends, colleagues, employers, investors and so on. There are scientists who agree with sceptics but keep their heads down, keeping their opinions to themselves. We joke about climate scientists doing it to keep the grants coming in, but it is a serious point. They are absolutely reliant on keeping them rolling in, with major personal real-world consequences if they don’t. It’s all very well to say ‘scientific principles’ when you’re blogging anonymously on something with no real-life consequences for you, but it’s a bit different when your job’s on the line. Journals are no doubt the same.

    They’re not qualified to comment on the climate debate, so citing the mainstream is arguably the safest and most justifiable thing they can do. They don’t want to get involved. Most of their customers and suppliers are social sciences types likely to be in that camp. And sceptics have no power, believe in freedom of thought and speech, and generally speaking are not as viciously vindictive to those who disagree with them. We’re more likely to forgive them for not being entirely on our side. And they’re in enough trouble as it is.

    And it’s important that they not be perceived as closet sceptics if the withdrawal is to have any credibility, or Lew&Co will just claim that’s the real reason it was withdrawn.

    They’re saying the minimum they think they can get away with. The ethical issue is sufficient reason to withdraw the paper, so they don’t need to go into any of the others. It’s also the easiest and clearest point to argue.

    The paper has been withdrawn. It has passed on. It is no more. Expired and gone to meet its maker. Bereft of life. Kicked the bucket and shuffled off this mortal coil. If UWA and Lewandowsky hadn’t nailed it to its perch it would be pushing up the daisies. This is an ex-paper.

    The sceptics won this battle, or about as close to it as was possible.

    • Jeff Id said

      I like your point about the consequences to them for not getting more grant money. It also represents real consequences to the university or institution. When Mann can get his government friends to give the university millions for spreading a pro-government message, it is hard for any business to ignore.

      I see this as a fight against a massively funded multi-billion dollar industry which isn’t planning to cut the budget any time soon. The product is fear and the goal is power and money.

      • j ferguson said

        I always thought Feynman’s application of the term “cargo cult” to a particular form of bad science a bit off the mark. My understanding of Feynman’s idea was that one went through the motions of doing science without actually touching all of the bases and produced results which were believed meaningful, in short one fooled oneself.

        The original cargo cults which evolved after the war in the South Pacific built planes, hangars, and control towers out of straw, cleared runways, and ran operations schedules talking into sticks imagined to be microphones all in the belief that if they somehow did it right, John Frum with all of the good things our quartermasters provided would return along with the happy times (for them, at least) of the wartime prosperity. But it didn’t work.

        This is where I think Feynman’s analogy is off. Our own flavor of cargo cult, managed by the quasi-scientific invokers of coming climate catastrophe, does work. For now, at least. They line up the straw planes and John Frum pays for their efforts along with a good overhead cut to the University.

        As an aside, I think this is the “wisdom” of the recent Court ruling on the Mann FOI in Virginia. The University is a business, the emails may very well contain thoughts on future work which if done at the University would result in grants and income – in short, be good for their business. And so the University has a business proprietary interest in the cointents of the emails and other documents and they cannot be released to an outsider.

        The climate catastrophist cargo cult is likely a very fragile arrangement though, and despite our fears that it will continue on and become even more built into our economy, it could easily be displaced by the next invented apocalypse which is alleged over the horizon.

        As another aside, had the attorneys been a little sharper, they might have argued that the University does not have a proprietary interest in public funding. I don’t know how this would work with the defense industry, but certainly my experience doing engineering for military construction was that having done one project successfully didn’t give you the slightest edge on getting another contract. But in my case, that seemed more practice than something in the FARs.

        Does any of the above make sense to you?

        • j ferguson said

          “cointents” Well that spelling certainly does clarify my point.

        • Nullius in Verba said

          “This is where I think Feynman’s analogy is off. Our own flavor of cargo cult, managed by the quasi-scientific invokers of coming climate catastrophe, does work.”

          It depends whether you see the purpose of doing science as making valid scientific discoveries or getting paid. From Feynman’s point of view, I’m sure he was regarding the pay-off as scientific discovery, and from that point of view, no, it doesn’t work.

          • j ferguson said

            you are right. I had misunderstood his point. nuts.

          • Nullius in Verba said

            J Ferguson,

            But you had a good point, too. It might not have been what Feynman meant, but it’s probably a more accurate commentary on why the things he was commenting on happen.

        • j ferguson said


          I apologize for having thought some more about where I thought Feynman might have gone wrong re: cargo cult science.

          The participants in the south seas cargo cults could see that it didn’t work and eventually gave up. It did occur to me that it would have been interesting if it had worked but that the arriving planes had been made of straw and the supplies straw as well.

          What is different with cargo cult “scientists” is that they don’t see that what they are doing doesn’t work.

          The problem is that the straw planes fly in and since that is what they were provoking in their studies they are satisfied with the result. In other words, in a south seas cargo cult anyone can see that it doesn’t work, but in cargo cult science the participants don’t get it.

  8. Barry Woods said

    Log 12 moon hoax remains.
    A paper where the VI of USA refuses to release raw data.
    A journal that will do noting about that, despite methodological error being widely known

    • hunter said

      It makes me wonder if there is a principle of entropy of corruption at work, that allows crap science to spread until it occupies all available space unless acted on by an equally strong ethical force in opposition…..

  9. Just Me again said

    You can’t prove us wrong, Jeff. Many now realise the gravito-thermal effect is a reality and you can’t prove it doesn’t exist in a Ranque-Hilsch vortex tube. There’s nothing quite like this empirical evidence which thus proves any greenhouse warming effect is pure fiction.

  10. Timmy said

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  11. WV cools said

    You can’t get away from the fact that a new study now shows that the greenhouse gas water vapour (the worst of these “pollutants” by far) does cool like this, and we can explain the physics as to why this puts a spanner in the works here. Fascinating reading I assure you.

  12. omanuel said


    Deceptionis a very serious threat for human civilization. It has been since 1945.

    Only today I finally grasped why my research mentor risked everything to bring secret diagrams and drawings of Japan’s wartime plans for an atomic bomb with him when he came to the United States [1]:

    1. BBC on line article, “Atomic plans returned to Japan,” Saturday, 3 August 2002:

    Japan’s atomic bomb project has been hidden from the public so ordinary citizens would not suspect why :

    a.) The United Nations was formed on 24 Oct 1945, and
    b.) Nuclear and solar physics were compromised in 1946

    Click to access Chapter_2.pdf

    Click to access WHY.pdf

    With deep regrets,
    – Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  13. Alex Hamilton said

    You are totally wrong in thinking that carbon dioxide is a primary cause of warming.

    Radiation in just a few spectral bands from carbon dioxide can never cause a warmer surface to increase in temperature. It can have a minuscule effect slowing down radiative cooling, but virtually all the slowing of surface cooling is by conduction at the surface-atmosphere boundary. The energy thus absorbed primarily by nitrogen and oxygen molecules subsequently finds its way by diffusion into water vapor, carbon dioxide and other radiating molecules, all of which act like holes in the nitrogen-oxygen blanket, radiating energy out of the atmosphere.

    There is no need for any warming by radiation anyway. It is now well-known and proven empirically that gravity forms a thermal gradient at the molecular level in the tropospheres of any planet with a significant atmosphere. On Earth the surface temperature would be a few degrees hotter if there were no water vapor, but it is cooler because water vapor and other radiating molecules (carbon dioxide included) help to cool the lower troposphere by radiating energy to higher altitudes and to space.

    That is what physics tells us. From my reading of what climatologists have assumed, I find their writings to be a complete travesty of physics.

    • Jeff Id said

      “You are totally wrong in thinking that carbon dioxide is a primary cause of warming. ” – I never have made that claim. It is reasonably founded, though the magnitude of the effect is in question.

      So if this is Doug, which I reasonably assume without looking at the computer generated details, I see that you have changed your mind that CO2 can “slow” cooling. That is a good step Doug, now we need an admission that, like climate scientists, you don’t know the true amount of warming it creates be it large or small.

      As to your gravity gradient, gravity does create a temperature gradient in gasses other than the relativistic one. However, without convection the gradient would not exist. Can you now figure out why?

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