Last fall, Geoff Chambers and Barry Woods established beyond a shadow of a doubt that no blog post linking to the Lewandowsky survey had ever been published at the Skeptical Science (SKS) blog. Chambers reasonably suggested at the time that the authors correct the claim in the article to reflect the lack of any link at the SKS blog. I reviewed the then available information on this incident in September 2012 here.
Since then, information obtained through FOI by Simon Turnill has shown that responses by both Lewandowsky and Cook to questions from Chambers and Woods were untrue. Actually, “untrue” does not really do justice to the measure of untruthfulness, as the FOI correspondence shows that the untruthful answers were given deliberately and intentionally. Chambers, in a post entitled Lewandowsky the Liar, minced no words in calling Lewandowsky “a liar, a fool, a charlatan and a fraud.”
Even though the untruthfulness of Lewandowsky and Cook’s stories had been clearly demonstrated by Geoff Chambers in a series of blog articles (e.g. here), in the published version of the Hoax paper, instead of correcting prior untrue claims about SKS, Lewandowsky doubled down, repeating and substantially amplifying the untrue claim.
Contrary to one of the many untrue claims in Fury, the first interest of the few people to originally interest themselves in the Hoax paper (primarily Geoff Chambers and Barry Woods) was the identity of the eight “pro-science” blogs which had supposedly published a link to the Lewandowsky survey. Woods emailed Lewandowsky, who promptly replied with a list of the eight blogs, all of which were stridently anti-skeptic. The most prominent of the eight were SKS, Deltoid and Tamino. Chambers, Woods and others sharply criticized the idea of trying a survey of skeptics at stridently anti-skeptic blogs, a criticism that has remains unrefuted.
Chambers and Woods quickly located referring blogposts at all of the blogs except SKS. They were able to locate a contemporary tweet from John Cook, but no SKS blogpost. Close examination of the Wayback machine archive showed beyond any doubt that there was no SKS blogpost on the Lewandowsky survey in August/September 2010 (see my previous post here.)
Woods directly asked Lewandowsky in early August 2012 for the location of the alleged SKS blog post. Lewandowsky unequivocally told Woods that Cook had “posted it” and that he (Lewandowsky) had “made a note” of it, though he had not kept the “actual URL”. Lewandowsky speculated that Cook had deleted the post when the survey was closed (highly atypical blog behavior, to say the least):
I worked with John Cook directly at the time and he posted it (and I made a note of it), but I don’t have the actual URL to the survey dating back to the time when he posted it. I suspect he removed it when the survey was closed because then the link would have been dead.
The idea that Cook had deleted the SKS link to the Lewandowsky survey seemed highly implausible to, among others, Geoff Chambers, who asked about the incident in early September 2012 in comments at SKS here
Could you, John Cook, please clarify whether SkS posted a link to Lewandowsky’s survey between Aug and Oct 2010, or helped in any other way, eg by providing email addresses of potential respondents?
Cook replied with an inline comment that re-iterated Lewandowsky’s assertion to Woods, saying as follows:
Skeptical Science did link to the Lewandowsky survey back in 2011 but now when I search the archives for the link, it’s no longer there so the link must’ve been taken down once the survey was over.
The 2011 date was clearly an error and was immediately challenged. Cook promptly conceded that the 2011 date was not correct and should have been 2010, commenting as follows:
My apologies, it was 2010, not 2011 (have updated the original response).
The idea that Cook had deleted the referring blogpost remained implausible. Chambers continued to press for information, asking whether anyone at SKS remembered a blog post on the survey. Chambers’ questions were cut off by an SKS moderator who told him to take up the matter with Cook in offline emails:
You have already received a public response from John Cook. Should you wish more detail, please submit an email to him. This is a forum founded and administered by him. Therefore questions of the nature you have been posting should more rightly be submitted to him in private correspondence. Continuance in this behavior now constitutes grandstanding and sloganeering, and will be moderated accordingly. FYI.
Much to Chambers’ surprise, Cook contacted him directly with a contact email address:
JC: Hi Geoff, you can email me via this email address if you have any direct questions, although there’s not much more that I can add other than what I’ve mentioned in the comment threads.
Chambers then re-iterated his question about the “missing” SKS blog post, asking additionally for information about contemporary blog comments (which had been revealing at Deltoid and Tamino):
Thanks John. My interest comes from the fact that, of the eight “pro-science” blogs contacted by Lewandowsky, SkS is by far the most important. One might therefore expect that the majority of respondents to the survey came from SkS (depending on the coverage you gave it, and the date at which you posted it, etc.)
At two of the six (Tamino’s and Deltoid) there was significant discussion of the survey, with people criticising and taking up positions. This, too, is interesting when it comes to interpreting the survey. So here are my questions:
- The date the survey was posted
- The date the post was deleted
- Were there comments to the post? If so, how many, and are they still available, or were they deleted along with the original post?
Cook’s reply was unresponsive to Chambers’ question. Cook said that all he could find was an email from Lewandowsky on August 28 asking Cook to link to the survey:
Hi Geoff, sorry for the delay in replying, very behind in my email correspondence at the moment plus for this email, had to fire up the old machine that I was using back in 2010 to find any email correspondence back then. All I can find is an email from Steve on 28 August 2010 asking for me to link to his survey.
Chambers, increasingly frustrated, again asked Cook whether he did “in fact link to the survey”, suggesting that Cook had perhaps forgotten to post the link and that Lewandowsky’s count of blogs in his article was incorrect – nothing more than a “silly mistake” that Lewandowsky could “easily correct”:
GC: Hi John. Thanks for the reply. So did you in fact link to his survey? It looks to me that you just forgot and didn’t post the link. So Stephan just assumed you had posted, and put in his paper the reference to eight blogs he’d contacted, including yours and the dormant NZ one. A silly mistake easily corrected. All he has to do is correct the “eight blogs” in his paper to six. Can you confirm that his survey was not in fact linked from Skeptical Science?
Rather than conceding the point, Cook re-iterated that he had linked to the Lewandowsky survey:
I did provide a link to the survey.
Increasingly frustrated, Chambers once again asked Cook for details on when the supposed link had been put up:
GC: Hi John. Any chance of telling us when you put up the link? Sorry to keep pestering you but you are being a bit coy.
In response, Cook reported that he had “no records in the blog archives”, but claimed that he had found email correspondence between himself and Lewandowsky confirming that Lewandowsky had asked him to post a link to the survey and that Cook had replied on the same day that he had posted the link. Cook described the quality of the confirmation as “forensic evidence”.
I’ve given you everything I’ve got – I have no records in the blog archives (I searched the database for kwiksurvey, came up empty) so I must’ve either deleted the text link or deleted the blog post once the survey had closed. The only forensic evidence I could find was the email from Stephan asking for me to post a link and my reply that I posted it on the same day.
Subsequently, the actual email correspondence between Cook and Lewandowsky has been obtained through FOI. It completely confirms Chambers’ original surmise that Cook had sent out a tweet but forgot or otherwise failed to place a linking blogpost at SKS. It shows that Lewandowsky’s claim to have “made a note” of the linking blogpost was untrue. And as to Cook’s claim that his email correspondence was “forensic evidence” containing his “reply that I posted it on the same day”? Surely it can only be described as a baldfaced lie.
The FOI Correspondence from August 2010
On August 28, 2010, Lewandowsky emailed Cook as follows:
Hi , I am ready to launch my internet-based survey … I think I mentioned this to you before; the instrument is now ready to rock-n-roll. The link is shown below: http://www. kwiksurveys. com/online-survey. php ?surveyiD=HKMKNG ee191483
As you are my first “customer” I am not exactly sure how best to launch this, but ideally it would be some sort of flashing button that says “Contribute to Research-Record your attitudes about science by clicking here” or some such. Not sure the flashing button will work, but maybe you’ve got some idea? If you do write a post about it, maybe best not to mention my name but just anonymously refer to “researchers at the UWA” or some such?
let me know what you think … I am happy to draft something if you need me to.
PS: I will circulate this among the planet30 folks once I’ve got a good way sorted with you in how to link into this.
The “planet30 folks” is a reference to the private planet3.0 googlegroup, which is composed of activists and from which skeptics are excluded. In addition to Lewandowsky, other participants include Tim Lambert (Deltoid), Grant Foster (Tamino), Barry Bickmore, Coby Beck (Ill Considered) , Scott Mandia and Gareth ^ (Hot Topic).
At 11:20 am on August 28, Cook replied that he had filled out the survey. Cook ironically noted that his only information on the JFK assassination came from Oliver Stone, a prominent advocate of JFK conspiracy theory:
Well, I filled out the survey. Problem is after you click Finish, it just goes to the kwiksurveys.com homepage so there’s no message saying you’ve filled it out correctly. I think this is a bit of a faux pas as far as web functionality goes – people like to know whether their results were received.
Some of those conspiracy theories, I have no clue about – Oliver Stone is the only source of info I have for the JFK assassination :-)
Cook suggested that he simply start off with a tweet:
How about I start off with a tweet, something like: Help UWA research attitudes about science – fill out this online survey
Lew replied that a “tweet for starters” was fine:
Hi , a tweet for starters sounds good. I’ll see what I can do about the end-of-survey message; this is obviously constrained by the software.
Cook asked if Lewandowsky wanted to make further changes to the survey before Cook sent out a tweet:
Let me know if you’d like me to tweet now or would like to tweak the system first.
Lewandowsky confirmed that Cook might as well send out his tweet:
Hi … umm, tweet now. Not sure I can tweak much.
Cook sent out the tweet which Woods had already located (online here). It was word-for-word identical to his email to Lewandowsky.
Cook told Lewandowsky that Cook was “hoping” to do his own online survey and that he would “probably” mention Lewandowsky’s at the same time:
I’m hoping to post my own (much simpler) survey online shortly – when I blog post about that. I’ll probably include mention yours at the same time if show you the blog post when I’m ready to go).
Lewandowsky agreed with the plan:
thanks, sounds good.
As noted above, Cook’s failure to post a link at SKS can be unequivocally verified on the Wayback machine, as Chambers, Woods and others had reported at the time and as summarized at CA here. The Wayback archive took a screenshot of the SkS home page on August 30. Below is a screenshot of the SKS homepage showing all posts bracketing August 28, the date that Lewandowsky and Cook claimed that SKS had posted a link. It does not show any post linking to the Lewandowsky survey, (Nor does it appear in the screenshot for the following week which shows posts starting on August 31.)
The “forensic evidence” – which Cook had characterized as containing his “reply [to Lewandowsky] that [Cook] posted it [the blog link] on the same day” – clearly contradicts Cook’s assertion to Chambers. The email correspondence unequivocally shows that Cook did not put up an SKS blog post as he had claimed. The email correspondence is entirely consistent with Chambers’ original surmise: that Cook had only sent out a tweet, but had not done a blog post.
Worse, when one places the actual email correspondence against Cook’s statement to Chambers about the email, it is evident that Cook had consulted the 2010 emails in question and had deliberately misrepresented them to Chambers.
In an email to Cook on February 14, 2013, I sent a detailed review of the above events and asked Cook to defend himself, concluding my email as follows:
Not to put too fine a point on it, it appears to me that you lied, when you asserted that your correspondence with Lewandowsky on 28 August 2010 was “forensic evidence” that showed that you had posted a link at Skeptical Science to the Lewandowsky survey on that day. I use the word “lie” because you had clearly examined the 28 August 2010 correspondence at the time of your email to Chambers and knew that this correspondence did not show that you had posted a link at Skeptical Science to the Lewandowsky survey on 28 August 2010 or any other day.
Before I make any public statements about this matter, I am offering you an opportunity to rebut the belief that the statement bolded above was a lie.
Cook did not respond.
The Hoax SI
As Chambers had originally pointed out, it would have been easy enough for Lewandowsky to slightly amend the text of the Hoax article, to say that links had been posted on seven blogs, rather than eight blogs. Lewandowsky was aware of the evidence showing that there never was any SKS blogpost since a side comment in the contemporary CA post about the fictitious SKS blogpost was cited in Fury.
However, in the final published version of the Hoax, Lewandowsky not only continued to assert that he had contacted eight blogs, but added a discussion of blog participants at SKS.
In the “accepted” article (and in the published version), Lewandowsky had merely stated:
Participants: Visitors to climate blogs voluntarily completed an online questionnaire between August and October 2010 (N = 1377). Links were posted on 8 blogs (with a pro-science science stance but with a diverse audience); a further 5 “skeptic” (or “skeptic”-leaning) blogs were approached but none posted the link.
However, in the SI to the published version, Lewandowsky substantially amplified the discussion, with multiple references to SKS as follows:
Prevalence of “skeptics” among blog visitors All of the blogs that carried the link to the survey broadly endorsed the scientific consensus on climate change (see Table S1). As evidenced by the comment streams, however, their readership was broad and encompassed a wide range of view on climate change. To illustrate, a content analysis of 1067 comments from unique visitors to http://www.skepticalscience.com, conducted by the proprietor of the blog, revealed that around 20% (N = 222) held clearly “skeptical” views, with the remainder (N = 845) endorsing the scientific consensus. At the time the research was conducted (September 2010), http://www.skepticalscience.com received 390,000 monthly visits. Extrapolating from the content analysis of the comments, this translates into up to 78,000 visits from “skeptics” at the time when the survey was open (although it cannot be ascertained how many of the visitors actually saw the link.)
For comparison, a survey of the U. S. public in June 2010 pegged the proportion of “skeptics” in the population at 18% (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Smith, 2011). Comparable surveys in other countries (e. g., Australia; Leviston & Walker, 2010) yielded similar estimates for the same time period. The proportion of “skeptics” who comment at http://www.skepticalscience.com is thus roughly commensurate with their proportion in the population at large.
Lewandowsky’s claim that “it cannot be ascertained how many of the visitors [to SKS} actually saw the link” is merely the latest untrue claim. In fact, the number of SKS visitors who saw an SKS link to the Lewandowsky survey can be precisely ascertained: it was zero.
Nor, as was observed at various blogs last fall, can readership figures be extrapolated from SKS to the other even more more antagonistic blogs. The relevant content analysis is not at SKS, but at Deltoid and Tamino, blogs where the Lewandowsky link was actually published and where “skeptic” comments are few and far between.
Last fall, long before Lewandowsky had expanded his accusations of “conspiracist ideation” to include the UK Met Office, one of Lewandowsky’s coauthors (presumably Cook) observed that Lewandowsky’s critics were actually accusing him of “lying/deceiving/incompetence” rather than “conspiracy”:
Maybe we should address more head-on the inevitable criticism that they’re not accusing you of conspiracy because lying/deceiving/incompetence doesn’t necessarily involve conspiring.
On this point at least – the need for Lewandowsky to address issues of “Lying/deceiving/incompetence” – even Lewandowsky’s coauthors and critics appear to have found common ground.