Lewandowsky’s Loopy Logic

As I’ve mentioned before, I really try to ignore the Lewandowsky nonsense, but  occasionally  an opportunity comes up that’s too good to miss. In The Conversation this week there’s an article “Are you a poor logician? Logically, you might never know” by Stephan Lewandowsky and Richard Pancost. Yes, Lewandowsky, the Chair of Cognitive Psychology at University of Bristol, who writes papers on his pre-determined conclusions without apparently noticing that his data doesn’t support them, has written an article about people who aren’t very good at thinking logically, and who over-rate their own competence; the article goes on to stress the importance of “introducing accurate scientific knowledge into public debates”. Honestly, I’m not making this up.

So I posted the following comment at The Conversation (and knowing the tendency of The Conversation to delete comments that don’t support their agenda, promptly took a screen shot).

Lewandowsky’s logical blunder has been reported on numerous occasions, by Steve McIntyre here, here and here, by ManicBeanCounter, by Jose Duarte and by Brandon Shollenberger, who showed how Lewandowskyan logic can be used to show that people who are concerned about climate change are pedophiles. Here is Brandon’s plot of Lewandowsky’s data, which nicely illustrates the error (small random numbers have been added to the responses so that they show up individually):

This is the data that Lewandowsky used to justify his notorious paper “NASA faked the moon landing—therefore, (climate) science is a hoax”. Despite the obvious errors, and calls for retraction, the journal Psychological Science has so far stubbornly refused to take any action.

After the section on logical thinking and the Dunning-Kruger effect, of which Lewandowsky himself is such a fine example, the remainder of the Lewandowsky-Pancost article sinks further. There is an unfair personal attack on Anthony Watts, saying that he thinks hot buildings contribute to warming, when in fact, as the authors are well aware, his concern has been with the poor siting of weather stations. Then there is the false analogy of smoking causing lung cancer – at the risk of stating the obvious, tens of thousands of people die every year from lung cancer, almost all of them smokers, so the link is perfectly clear, unlike the claims about future warming based on speculative computer models that are increasingly failing to match reality.

My comment was deleted by the Conversation’s moderators, and I received an email giving their guidelines – none of which were broken by comment. It can’t really be seen as off-topic, since it’s about logical thinking, and there are other comments that are much more off-topic that survived. Presumably the excuse would be that pointing out Lewandowsky’s errors counts as a “personal attack” – though he himself is allowed to attack Anthony Watts. (My comment survives at this blog where the article is copied). Several other comments were deleted and the comment thread was rapidly closed.

A future post will deal more specifically with the so-called Conversation, its censorship of comments, its abuse of public funding, and its bogus claims of “Academic rigour” and being “free of political bias”.


Update 10 Nov:

Some more links:

Ben Pile has an article on Lewandowsky’s Logic and what he aptly terms the “Nonversation”. He also notes the failure of the academic community to act as a check, and how this then reflects badly on the entire field.

Ben links to a series of three recent posts at by Andy West at WUWT. One of Andy’s main points is that Lewandowsky, and the climate movement generally is a prime example of the cognitive bias failings that he accuses others of – similar to the point I am making here.

Brandon Shollenberger reminds me that he wrote a longer document on the statistical error.

Finally, the LiveFromGolgafrincham blog has been fortunate to procure a special guest post from the man himself, in which he explains that the latest Conversation article was in fact intended to be a humorous parody, which makes a lot of sense.


Update 13 Nov: Latest Lewpy Logic

Another own goal by Lewandowsky appeared yesterday. A short, content-free opinion piece by him was published by IOP (have they forgotten what the P stands for?). It is the latest instalment in his “every-one-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-conspiracy-theorist” canon. His paper draws attention to climategate, by claiming that sceptic blogs show a “continued and growing fascination” with it.
Yet again, the man exposes his clueless lack of self-awareness.
Needless to say, Lewandowsky’s claim of “continued and growing” sceptic fascination is nonsense. The above link shows that Climate Audit has had one article on Climategate in 2014, none in 2013 , and one in 2012. The much more active WUWT blog has had 4 in 2014, 2 in 2013, 16 in 2012, and 22 in Nov-Dec alone in 2011, following Climategate 2. Maybe someone can do a more thorough investigation?
ATROSTO again, it is he, by publishing this inane article, who exhibits “continued and growing fascination”, and “continued conspiratory obsession”.

As Judith Curry wrote on twitter, “New paper by Lewandowsky once again projects his own conspiracy ideation onto skeptics”.

In her latest blog post, We are all confident idiots, she writes “Lew is so busy dissecting the ‘bias’ of climate change skeptics that he misses his own rather glaring biases.”

WUWT writes “More insane conspiracy theory from Dr. Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol University”

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9 thoughts on “Lewandowsky’s Loopy Logic

  1. I’m tempted to complaint to both the Conversation and the Cabot Institute.. setting up Watts for a casual smear.

    stupidity, Dunning Kruger, etc – followed by a snearing “Guess Who”

    ‘thinks hot building contributes to global warmimng”

    is a pathetic smear/ misrepresentaion of Watts UHI concerns and surface station project.

    surfacestations.org
    http://www.surfacestations.org/about.htm

    and climate organised a conference/workshop and project about it- calling the work

    surfacetemperatures.org (very similar to surfacestations.org)

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/08/25/surfacetemperatures-org/

    The GHCN network was embarrassed enough to do a review of surface stations compliance and dropped many, becasue of Watts work.

    http://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/dont-mention-it-youre-welcome/

    AND the scientists from the USA got aught out, not crediting Anthony (and others with photos,) eventually crediting Anthony here:

    https://4310b1a9-a-85778f51-s-sites.googlegroups.com/a/surfacetemperatures.org/home/exeterworkshop2010/7_1Wed_exeter-menne.pdf

  2. My deleted Conversation comment below,

    “The ‘contrarian blogger’ linked to in this article is Anthony Watts. It seems Prof Lewandowsky cannot quite bring himself to use Anthony Watt’s name directly in this article, with its talk about stupidity and Dunning-Kruger and the rest. How brave of Prof Lewandowsky then, to just link and not use Anthony’s name.

    Question for the Conversation:

    Prof Lewandowsky named Anthony Watts in a recent paper, (and other sceptics) as sources of conspiracy ideation – Recursive Fury – Frontiers..

    This paper was retracted against the authors wishes, the founder of Frontiers- Professor Henry Markram, described Prof Lewandowsky’s actions and that of his co-authors actions as:

    “activism that abuses science as a weapon” – Henry Markram (see comments)

    Markram also said:

    “Science cannot be abused to specifically label and point out individuals in the public domain.”

    http://www.frontiersin.org/blog/Rights_of_Human_Subjects_in_Scientific_Papers/830

    This article in The Conversation is of course not Science but an opinion, but is not Prof Lewandowsky now potentially perceived as mis-using his position and authority as Professor of Psychology to do just that in The Conversation? – point out individuals? Is this wise ethically for a Psychology Professor?

    Is it wise to allow the perception that Prof Lewandowsky is using The Conversation to have a go his and John Cook’s long term opponent? He is along term protagonist of Anthony Watts (WattsUpWithThat website), going back to 2010, when Prof Lewandowsky organised John Cook – a co-author (and of Sceptical Science) to hand out booklets at a lecture Watts and Nova were giving, Prof Lewandowsky also organised a counter lecture the day before)

    Also, I would respect Lewandowsky as a scientist, if he released his data..

    I have been told by the Chief Editor Prof Erich Eich, that I should submit a comment – to Psychological Science – regarding Prof Lewandowsky’s paper – NASA faked the Moon Landing therefore climate science is a hoax.

    Prof Lewandowsky, nor UWA will not provide the data that I requested.
    (this data is the only evidence that might prove me wrong)

    http://climateaudit.org/2014/03/30/uwa-vice-chancellor-johnson-circles-the-wagons/
    http://climateaudit.org/2014/03/28/uwa-vice-chancellor-refuses-lewandowsky-data/

    The paper in question relied on 3 responses out of 1100, by anonymous participants on 7 blogs that hate sceptics, for its title.. which duly has generated climate sceptics are conspiracy theorists in the media and elsewhere (its intent, because peer reviewed science says so?)

    Social Scientist – Jose Duartes has some thoughts on this here:
    http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/more-fraud

    “This is all false, and the paper should be retracted. It should’ve been retracted by the authors already.

    First, the title. It’s not metaphorical or anything. It plainly describes a relationship between believing the moon landing was a hoax and believing climate science is a hoax, even specifying a causal direction. These are variables that were measured in this study – again the title is not a metaphor, is quite specific and descriptive. What do the data say? Well, out of 1145 participants, only 10 believed the moon landing was a hoax (likely including fakes.) We’ll pause here to note that 10 in this context is essentially zero, and we couldn’t validly infer links between moon hoaxism and anything else from that number. But it’s worse – a majority of these 10 reject the idea that climate science is a hoax – 7 out of the 10. Only 3 participants out of 1145 endorsed the moon hoax and the climate science hoax.

    Therefore, the title is false. That’s a big problem. (We shouldn’t decompose those 10 people, and I do so only out of illustrative necessity – the title would be nuts even if the majority of the 10 believed climate science was a hoax.) The title is not only false, it declares the opposite relationship suggested by the authors’ trivial data for it. If the authors meant to say something about moon hoaxism based those 10 people, a more accurate title, given their data, would be: “NASA Faked the Moon Landing–Therefore (Climate) Science is Reliable.”

    The title being wildly false is bad enough, but it’s made worse by the fact that it slanders millions of people as believing that the moon landing was a hoax. They don’t believe any such thing, according to the authors’ own data. Slandering one’s participants is a serious ethical breach.” – Jose Duartes

    Scientist make there data available..

    Withholding his data from anybody, makes Prof Lewandowsky not a …..?

    ——– end comment

    Maybe they did not like the tone, but they had effectively labelled, publicly, Anthony Watts, as stupid, suffering from ‘Dunning-Kruger (this paper won the IG Nobel prize, for a reason guys) and sneered at him with “Guess Who” and ‘he thinks hot buildings contribute to global warming”.

    So they Richard Pancost and Stephan Lewandowsky, need to put their ‘big boy’ pants on, and cope with a robust reply (and mine is factually accurate and backed up with references)

    As Lewandowksy is a psychology professor, behaving like this is very ethically questionable, especially as Anthony was one of the complainants on the Lewandowsky’s retracted – Recursive Fury paper..

    Looks like retaliation by media..

  3. You’re not going to get much joy pursuing Lew. He’s a fine example of his field – advanced b*ll*cks. There are few genuinely insightful people in that field and those that are any good are treated in much the same way as climate sceptics. It doesn’t suit the esablishment to have stuff disected. Gawd forbid it became a habit or the whole field might collapse.
    There was an interesting article a few days ago linked at BH about how psychologists tended to be left wing and couldn’t understand the right wing mind. The conclusions they build are inherently biased and can lead to the wrong answer. Thus those people around Dr Lew can’t see the flaws in his work because they’re the same mistakes they’d have made.

    Dr Lew is also an activist. He sees the world through CO2 tinted glasses. Demonising sceptics is justifiable and even if we don’t believe the moon landings were faked, it’s the sort of thing we’re likely to do in Lew’s mind. To him we’re not entirely real, like baddies in a story. You can’t hurt fictional characters.

    Of course at the same time he knows we’re real and basic ethics should kick in but clearly don’t because he doesn’t consider us the underdogs. This behaviour, while wrong, is slightly flattering. He considers us able to take the insults he throws at us. A bit like Brits playing baddies in the movies.

  4. I have just read the new Lew and Pancost article. It is unbelievably awful. I know he has maligned many people – possibly to the extent of actions for defamation (Barry Woods?) – and undermined the reputation of at least one University in the process. But trying to engage with him is not possible. He will totally ignore what other people say.
    Rather than trying to get the Great Lewandowsky sacked, I propose an opposite strategy. He should be promoted as illustrative of the global warming movement – as a real life caricature better than fiction. As he claims to be the last word in everything he touches – and he has published on a number of disciplines recently – so people can verify for themselves where he is wrong, dogmatic, or naive, from within their own specialisms and experience. This would also help many others to understand what is a hugely complex subject. I will try to provide some examples later.

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    Barry, we know the Conversation doesn’t like links to blogs so maybe that would be their excuse for not posting your comment.

    Tiny, yes I agree about pursuing. Look at the huge effort that was required to get the unethical, libellous ‘recursive fury’ paper withdrawn, how the establishment tried to support Lew for as long as possible, in what should have been an immediate open-and-shut case.

    Manic, yes, it is clear that engaging with him is not possible- he didn’t respond to any of the comments on that thread or the other one on uncertainty a couple of weeks earlier. I agree, rather than getting him sacked, he should be promoted, as he’s a very effective recruitment agent for climate scepticism – he achieves for psychology what Mann achieves for physical sciences.

    The ‘poor logician’ post is also up at the Cabot Institute blog so I will have a go at commenting there.

  6. I’ve left this comment:

    http://cabot-institute.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/are-you-poor-logician-logically-you.html?showComment=1415789506665#c7869723352727103306

    unsettledclimate.org12 November 2014 10:45

    “Guess Who”

    really is a petty sneer isn’t it, which is surely beneath the Cabot Institute.. following a build up in the article stupidity, Dunning Kruger, etc

    as for “thinks hot brick buildings”..

    you are presumably referring to Anthony Watts’ work on the surfacestations.org project which was met with respect by climate science

    http://www.surfacestations.org/about.htm

    This was concerned about weather stations, not being to the published standards required by GHCN for the climate data

    which was so influential that he concerns it raised resulted in scientists organising the surfacetemperature.org project

    http://www.surfacetemperatures.org/exeterworkshop2010

    The American scientists produced a report – lesson learnt – for the 1st conference-

    The fact they even borrowed from Anthony Watts work, even the photo of the front cover (was one of his, with[out] citing it) was a little embarrassing to them.. other graphs were observed to be very ‘familiar’

    http://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/dont-mention-it-youre-welcome/

    the ‘corrected report’ including citing Watts’s work is linked below, they mention other bloggers work on this topic, throughout the conference

    http://www.surfacetemperatures.org/exeterworkshop2010

    7.1 Lessons learnt from US Historical Climate Network and Global Historical Climate Network most recent homogenisation cycle – Matt Menne –
    http://www.surfacetemperatures.org/exeterworkshop2010

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/10/15/how-to-solve-attribution-conflicts-in-climate-science/

    UHI is a recognised effect, their IS a controversial UHI paper by Phil Jones about it. and even if, it has little effect on overall land temperature trends. Poor standards, is a factor to be concerned/considered about at individual locations, when record breaking temperatures being reported for individual location.

    — so I think your “Guess Who” and ‘thinks hot buildings” is just a nasty peace of spin, mocking Anthony Watts, not quite calling him stupid and suffering from Dunning Kruger directly, but I’m sure the audience gets the intent..

    climate science is also concerned about “hot brick buildings” and the land surface temperature record dataset

  7. manicbeancounter, I second your suggestion that Lewandowsky be appointed AGW-alarmism poster boy. I’d love to see his insane ravings on BBC and Guardian sites, rather than the examples of scientific fraud and irrational correlations between climate and anthropogenic causes usual posted.

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