Lewandowsky Rebuked: Journal Editors Did Not “Cave Into Threats” By Climate Sceptics

  • Date: 05/04/14
  • Retraction Watch

Frontiers in Psychology, which last month formally retracted a controversial paper linking climate skepticism to conspiracy ideation, says it did not cave in to threats from skeptics, contrary to what a lot of news reports and commentary implied or claimed.

For example, summarizing a number of those reports this morning, before Frontiers had issued its statement, co-author Stephan Lewandowsky wrote on his blog:

By and large, the mainstream media coverage seems to have picked up on what’s really at issue here, namely academic freedom and editorial intimidation by a small band of vociferous individuals.

Here’s the statement, in which Frontiers stresses the rights of the people Lewandowsky and his colleagues wrote about:

(Lausanne, Switzerland) – There has been a series of media reports concerning the recent retraction of the paper Recursive Fury:Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation, originally published on 18 March 2013 in Frontiers in Psychology. Until now, our policy has been to handle this matter with discretion out of consideration for all those concerned. But given the extent of the media coverage – largely based on misunderstanding – Frontiers would now like to better clarify the context behind the retraction.

As we published in our retraction statement, a small number of complaints were received during the weeks following publication. Some of those complaints were well argued and cogent and, as a responsible publisher, our policy is to take such issues seriously. Frontiers conducted a careful and objective investigation of these complaints. Frontiers did not “cave in to threats”; in fact, Frontiers received no threats. The many months between publication and retraction should highlight the thoroughness and seriousness of the entire process.

As a result of its investigation, which was carried out in respect of academic, ethical and legal factors, Frontiers came to the conclusion that it could not continue to carry the paper, which does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects. Specifically, the article categorizes the behaviour of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics. Frontiers informed the authors of the conclusions of our investigation and worked with the authors in good faith, providing them with the opportunity of submitting a new paper for peer review that would address the issues identified and that could be published simultaneously with the retraction notice.

The authors agreed and subsequently proposed a new paper that was substantially similar to the original paper and, crucially, did not deal adequately with the issues raised by Frontiers.

We remind the community that the retracted paper does not claim to be about climate science, but about psychology. The actions taken by Frontiers sought to ensure the right balance of respect for the rights of all.

One of Frontiers’ founding principles is that of authors’ rights. We take this opportunity to reassure our editors, authors and supporters that Frontiers will continue to publish – and stand by – valid research. But we also must uphold the rights and privacy of the subjects included in a study or paper.

Frontiers is happy to speak to anyone who wishes to have an objective and informed conversation about this. In such a case, please contact the Editorial Office at editorial.office@frontiersin.org.

Costanza Zucca, Editorial Director

Fred Fenter, Executive Editor

The statement from Frontiers is noteworthy in that it seems to be saying that researchers need consent, presumably based on a protocol approved by an institutional review board or its equivalent, to draw conclusions based on material posted to Twitter or other publicly available social media.

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